I’ve seen this all before…
The year was 1997 and on a rain-soaked October afternoon sitting in RFK Stadium I saw DC United defended their title to win the second MLS Cup. DC United had entered the MLS playoffs as the Supporters’ Shield winners finishing in first place in the Eastern Conference with a solid 21-11 record and took that momentum all the way to MLS Cup. Even more impressive was the prolific attack of the 1997 team who scored a league record 70 goals averaging 2.19 goals per game en-route to the title.
The DC United “magic triangle” of midfielder Marco “El Diablo” Etcheverry along with forwards Raul Diaz Arce and Jamie Moreno provided the high-powered attack (scoring 33 of the 70 goals) to the DC machine that rarely if ever saw the Eagles outgunned in a match. The first goal of MLS Cup 1997 summarized the triangle’s brilliance as Diaz Arce dummied a pass to allow Moreno to calmly claim the opening goal of the match.
So sitting in section 111 at Bobby Dodd this past game it hit me. The 2017 Atlanta United attack reminds me so much of that 1996-1997 “magic triangle” that DC United rode to two MLS Cups, a US Open Cup, and later a 1998 CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (Diaz Arce had since been replaced in the triangle by US International Roy Lassiter). I see the current Atlanta “magic diamond” of Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, Yamil Asad, and Hector Villalba just as dynamic, just as exciting, and possibly more lethal than that DC “magic triangle” of 20 years ago.
The DC triangle-ATL diamond similarities are all there for me.
The DC triangle were all players in their 20’s with Etcheverry and Diaz Arce at 27 years old and Moreno at 23 years old. Diablo and Moreno were regulars on the Bolivian national team while Diaz Arce was a steady call-up for the Salvadorans. The chemistry was there from the beginning and the fluid possession and flair of the triangle was only overshadowed by the ruthless, cruel finishing of the group as they tormented defenses league-wide over that span.
Our ATL diamond also has all its players in their 20’s with the duo of Almiron and Martinez at 23 years old with Asad and Villalba checking in at year younger. Almiron and Martinez are headed to South America on World Cup qualifiers later this month to represent Paraguay and Venezuela respectively. And if you’ve seen any of the first three games you know these guys can combine, attack, possess, and finish as both individuals and as a collective unit.
It has been a thing of beauty to behold. Martinez has been the point of the diamond like Diaz Arce of the past and has a league-leading five goals to his account. Almiron has been the El Diablo of the diamond playing wicked balls (2 assists) that dissect opponents while also adding timely goals like the MLS Goal of the Week for Week 2. Asad who scored the first goal in club history (1 goal and 2 assists) along with Villalba (1 goal and 1 assist) have provided the balancing blades of the diamond just like Moreno did 20 years ago that both steady the ATL attack and unbalance the opponent’s defense at the same time. Just ask Chicago how they liked defending touchline to touchline and you’ll see the value of this balance and unbalance of the ATL magic diamond. ATL UTD has scored 11 goals from 8 assists this season with the “magic diamond” accounting for 9 of the goals and 4 of the assists. This is clearly ahead of schedule of the 1997 magic triangle production numbers but we do have an extra player in the ATL diamond than the DC triangle.
So whether it has been the brilliance of Tata Martino, the shrewd transactions of the front office, or just the courage to play this style of soccer from the diamond… it has all come together nicely to create an excellent product on the field this season.
Yes, it is very early in a long, challenging MLS expansion season. But this ATL UTD “magic diamond” is for real and it’s going to be exciting to see how far this group can go.
About the Author:
Forrest Wimberly has been a soccer fan, player, coach, referee, and dad for the past 35 years in Georgia at the youth, club, high school, college, and adult amateur level of play. An MLS fan since 1996, Wimberly supported DC United up until 2017 and has attended numerous MLS games through the years including MLS Cup 1997, 1999, 2000, and 2001. Wimberly currently teaches science classes at North Augusta High School and is involved with high school and club soccer in the Augusta area. He signed up for ATL UTD season tickets the day the team was announced in 2015 and currently sits in section 111 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.