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Talking Tactics: Atlanta United’s inaugural match

Our resident tactics experts have a quick chat about what they saw during the season opener.

New York Red Bulls v Atlanta United FC Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Joe Patrick: Let's just jump in. I was checking the [Dirty South Soccer writers’] Slack chat from my seat during the game and I remember you mention at halftime that Martino was winning the tactical battle. Would you still hold that sentiment following the result?

Joe Hulbert: I do. Atlanta United controlled the game from the wide areas, which is ironically a strange way to control a game in modern football. Jesse Marsch's formation played right into Martino's hands, and a coach of his ability will always take advantage of that.

Patrick: I was surprised by that too. I kept seeing Tyrone Mears and Greg Garza playing balls up the line, which is something I hadn't noticed much of in preseason.

Hulbert: I'm gonna be honest though, I can't see that strategy being common place over the course of the season. I think it was purely an adjustment by Martino. I imagine more emphasis will be placed on building from central positions next game.

Patrick: Did Marsch pack midfield? The middle of the park looked very hectic from where I was sitting/standing.

Hulbert: He did. It was a move of fear to me, not a move of a seasoned tactician. The structure was poor. Atlanta would often just pass around the two banks of four, and Red Bulls only really got pressure when Atlanta had the ball in their own box

Patrick: It's funny you mention that. When I watched the TV broadcast, which offers a much better tactical perspective, I realized how well Carlos Carmona used the ball to help keep possession (mainly among our back line, as you said). We’ll miss him when we play Minnesota.

Hulbert: Carmona's role probably wasn't as expansive as Martino will want him to be, but I agree that he did an excellent job being that outlet. The main worry for me was the goalkeeper. As a big Joe Hart fan, I was so critical of Pep Guardiola's decision to bring in Claudio Bravo, but Atlanta United's first game showed the perils of trying to ‘play out' without having a keeper who can play that way.

Patrick: Don't get me started! I was in the supporters section right behind the goal, and we could all see how aimless Alec Kann was with his distribution. I was in the 6th row, close enough to hear Kann really giving himself an earful after he would make those poor passes. He kept compounding his frustration and it clearly didn't help him.

Hulbert: Some guys have interesting motivation styles, he clearly isn't someone who can play with the ball under pressure, although he did make a couple of good saves.

Out of interest, what did you make of Tyrone Mears role? I’ve often been critical, but I thought he was a good outlet and used the ball well. His pace is a weapon too for overlapping runs.

Patrick: It was crazy. When the ball would get switched to the right flank, I'd rotate my head (following the path of the ball) expecting Tito Villalba to be on the end of the pass, but it was Mears. I knew that Tata wants his fullbacks pushed up high, but the extent of it was pretty eye-opening for me.

But I think it was his best performance since preseason started. I still contend that he is not fully fit, but the performance overall was good and it makes me hopeful he'll continue to improve with more matches. He seems to have a different style than Garza though. Garza seemed to dribble inside more, as where Mears pretty much hugged the touchline all game.

Hulbert: I think Garza dribbling inside makes quite a lot of sense. It's clear that Miguel Almiron is someone who prefers to drift into the left channel, so Garza doesn't really want to be taking that space up. He could be a pest on inside ‘underlaps,’ although he needs to improve his decision making first.

Patrick: Great point. Let's talk more about the attack

Josef Martinez is so physically gifted. I can't believe how high that guy can jump. It really makes me think Kenwyne Jones's role will basically be as a backup unless an injury forces a shuffle.

Hulbert: I'm a big stat guy, and when I saw at half time that Josef Martinez has won four aerial duels, I was shocked. He reminds me a lot of Tim Cahill, not an imposing figure but uses his body well and has a huge leap.

Kenwyne was a panic buy I think, just to get someone through the door. It made sense at the time, but I'm not sure he's good anymore. Most of the clubs he's played for in England haven't liked him a lot. He’s a clumsy player who doesn't suit most teams’ style.

Patrick: He seems like a good guy to have around the team for his experience and seems like an upbeat guy, but yeah I tend to agree with you. Some people sitting around me were surprised when he wasn't in the starting lineup. I don't think it surprising at all, based on preseason form. When he did get his run out late in the game, you never got the feeling he was going to make something happen.

Before we wrap up, one more talking point. There's a popular MLS pundit, Matt Doyle, who said on the latest Extra Time Radio podcast that he sees Almiron as a left winger, as opposed to the role Martino has him playing as a No. 10. He specifically mentioned that he lacks vision... great on the ball but doesn't pick his head up enough. What say you?

Hulbert: If he wants to be a No. 10, I think he's going to have to look for the pass more often. I'm not gonna write the experiment off after one game, but number tens are facilitators before goalscorers for the most part. You can see from his movement that he naturally drifts out to the left hand side, although that was somewhat tactical because the Red Bulls right back [Sal Zizzo] wasn't very good.

I'll give him time though. He's a young guy, and I think Martino will coach him to get his head up and trust his feet. He doesn't need to be looking at the ball, he needs to be more comfortable looking up and around at options.

Patrick: Yeah, I think there's some legitimacy to Doyle's argument based off this one game, but to me there just didn't seem to be much space there in the middle of the field for him to operate. Can’t wait to see how we Sunday in unfavorable conditions against a much different type of team.