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Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew, 2017 Carolina Challenge Cup: What we learned

Preseason fun and follies highlight the night

Mistakes proved costly

The preseason opener vs. Chattanooga FC was a great celebration of the club and the progress that’s been made over the last three years, but this was a little dose of reality. That reality being – MLS is physical and highly competitive, and it will take more than pouring men forward to win games. Atlanta’s fatal flaws in this match were largely to do to poor decisions. Columbus’s first goal was caused by a comical bit of goalkeeping from Alec Kann, who inexplicably put the ball on the ground after he was holding it in his area with Federico Higuain shadowing him. It’s a shame for Kann, because the error will overshadow some of the great saves he made to keep the score line from getting out of hand.

The good news is that many of the mistakes made are easily fixable. Yes, we lost our midfield shape on occasion and left ourselves exposed. Fixable. On the second goal, Mears could’ve done better to deny the cross. Fixable, with fitness work. As time goes on, things will get better and the unit will become more cohesive.

The team isn’t fully fit

One of the successes coming out of this match is that several players got a full 90 minutes under their belts without injury (knocking on wood that Almiron’s legs don’t flare up tomorrow). The team was visibly exhausted in the first half, let alone by the latter stages of the second half. But that’s what this camp is for, getting match fit. Columbus recently returned from a preseason camp in Brazil where they got drilled, but it’s no big deal – it’s preseason. And we should remember that the same goes for Atlanta. We are trying to establish match fitness while also trying to implement a system of playing, so it’s going to take some time (like, well into the regular season) for everything to gel. Breathe. Things are going to be OK.

Opposing teams will target Miguel Almiron

Again, Miguel Almiron was Atlanta’s most influential player on the night. He was clever in attack – attacking open space with the ball at his feet and creating space for others when he was off the ball. His involvement in the buildup was more noticeable in this game too, as he’d drop into deep midfield when he sensed his teammates were lacking passing options. Unfortunately, especially toward the end of the game, tired Columbus players resorted to mercilessly fouling Almiron to stop play and allow themselves to regroup defensively. Atlanta could take a page out of that book…

Despite the physical play waged against him, Almiron seemed to have the most energy left of anyone in white (who played 90 minutes) by the time the final whistle blew. I’ve harped on and on about how impressive he’s been this preseason, so I apologize if I’m beating a dead horse here, but he’s just a special player, and I can’t wait to watch more of him.

Philosophical rigidity or naivety?

Most of the critiques from fans on social media during the game (apart from technical issues) surrounded Atlanta’s refusal on numerous occasions to boot the ball clear when our defense was under heavy pressure deep in our own area. Time and again, they attempted to play their way out of trouble, to mixed results. It’s unclear at this point whether these were bad decisions, or if the manager was instructing them to take more risks considering it’s a preseason game. After all, preseason is for learning and coaching, and it’s possible that Tata wanted his players to keep the ball on the ground in these situations. Reason being, the more comfortable the players get in dealing with these situations, the better they will can execute the game plan to Martino’s philosophy.