Atlanta United rolled into Toronto and earned a 2-2 draw despite sloppy play during long durations of the match. Yamil Asad was sent off in the 75th minute after the referee deemed his arm to the head of a Toronto player was excessive violent conduct, but Atlanta held on to a share of the spoils. Here’s what we learned:
Atlanta is effective playing long and direct
For long portions of the game, Toronto forced Atlanta is defend deep in its own third as Sebastian Giovinco showed some of his best form of the season and made the Five Stripes look silly at times. Atlanta’s attempts to play out from the back more-often-than-not proved futile, but the away side created better opportunities when they played the ball long. Hector Villalba was a major threat when he found himself in footraces against Toronto’s back line, and unlike in Seattle, he took his chances. Tata Martino’s decision to start Villalba at striker over Kenwyne Jones proved to be the right call as Villalba bagged himself a brace, and it made clear that Kenwyne Jones’ role on the squad is peripheral.
Tata Martino is a hoot to watch on the touchline
I may have to make a compilation of some of the Atlanta United manager’s gestures of general disgust with everything happening around him, because some of it is just gold. Granted, I share many of his frustrations, especially regarding the red card shown to Yamil Asad, but he’s just dang funny to watch. I can’t wait until one day when he decides to take his glasses off and offer them to the ref.
We saw a formation evolution
In the absence of Josef Martinez, Martino employed a similar midfield structure to what we saw in Seattle. There, he played Jeff Larentowicz and Chris McCann together to give midfield a bit more strength, physicality and steel. Tonight, Carmona came in for McCann, and he and Larentowicz provided protection for the back four when Atlanta didn’t have the ball. Nothing particularly unique about that setup, but the way those defensive midfielders aligned themselves with ball was definitely different. Larentowicz dropped between the center backs, allowing Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez to move forward and help support the midfielders with a little more license. It makes sense, because both of our center backs make better use of the ball than Larentowicz. This tactical adjustment is smart in the long run, and while it definitely proved shaky at times, it will be vital for Atlanta to have various ways of breaking down a defense and relieving themselves of pressure as the season progresses.
Atlanta has an impressive ability to grind out results
This was a big talking point coming out of Seattle, but this game really proved that Atlanta has the competitiveness within the squad to grind out results when the game doesn’t necessarily go its way. You can’t fault the effort of any player on the field with an A on their shirt, and it’s a testament to the job Tata Martino has done to help the team believe they can always win and score goals. Coming out after halftime and putting Toronto under pressure immediately was a great sign, and I, for one, was feeling out of breath just watching Tito Villalba and Miguel Almiron chase and nip and cover open space. This is the quality that makes good teams great. If you look at the Premier League for example, you can’t distinguish the talent gap between the top six teams, but the sides closest to the top are the ones that work the hardest and have the most unity in the team. It’s great to see this aspect of Atlanta United already starting to flourish.