To get everyone ready for Atlanta United’s match against Real Salt Lake, we spoke with RSL Soapbox’s Matt Montgomery to get his take on Mike Petke, Brooks Lennon, and his main takeaways early in the season.
To find out what they wanted to know about Atlanta United read their post here:
DSS: RSL seem to have found a resurgence in form since the hiring of Mike Petke. What has he done differently since taking over?
RSLS: It's hard to underscore how much has changed under Mike Petke, but it also brings to light an important point. Mike Petke has made small, iterative changes, and the team might not have been as far off under Jeff Cassar as previously assumed.
The big difference under Petke tactically has been pushing our wide players further up the field, even when the team is defending. You'll still see Joao Plata and Brooks Lennon defending, but you won't see them behind the full backs anymore. That simple shift in strategy has made a substantial difference in the way the team plays out of defending situations, because there's more than just one player — Yura Movsisyan, typically — available up top to target.
The other major difference is encouraging the team to play purposefully out of the back, and to that end, we've seen more short passing from Nick Rimando and more possession in general. That's starting to reshape the identity of the team, but honestly, that identity was always somewhere bubbling under the surface.
DSS: How good is Brooks Lennon?
RSLS: Oh man.
Brooks Lennon is a revelation. But he's too good, because the odds that we keep him at the season will dwindle with every great run and goal scored — being on loan from Liverpool means they'll either want to keep him, or they'll want to sell him to the highest bidder. And it also means that in the summer, he's going to be with the the U.S. under-20 national team for the U-20 World Cup.
But that doesn't matter right now. Right now, Brooks Lennon has won a starting spot in short order, and he's showed very quickly that he's prepared to play 90 minutes without fading out of the game. He's got a good shot on him, he can send a good cross, and he'll beat a player on the dribble. But more importantly, he's very active defensively, and he can keep the ball well. He's a smart player.
I just can't get enough of Brooks Lennon.
DSS: What are your main takeaways from RSL's start to the season?
RSLS: This has been the craziest start to a season since either 2007 or 2011 — the former was when Jason Kreis abruptly retired as a player to take over as RSL's coach, and the latter was when RSL made the CONCACAF Champions League final. This season hasn't been quite as momentous as either yet, but the season is still young.
My big takeaway so far? We're not as bad as we looked a month ago. We looked utterly lost and unprepared against LA Galaxy. Now, we look ready, even if we haven't yet reached our apex. Frankly, that's a good thing — you don't want to look your best early in the season. Still, it would nice to think we'd reached our peak, only to be surprised again.