Total Soccer Show, a great podcast that covers everything you could possibly want to know about the beautiful game, recently had Will Parchman from Top Drawer Soccer on as a guest. The entire episode centered around U.S. youth national teams and their performances going to their respective World Cups (U-17 and U-20). Will brought up a very interesting point about the 2015 Under-17 team that I feel hits close to home as it relates to Atlanta United’s current struggles.
Back in 2014 and 2015, the U.S. U-17 team was absolutely stacked with talent. Namely Christian Pulisic, whom you may have heard of. But the list of stars didn’t stop there. Haji Wright, Josh Perez, Tyler Adams, Matthew Olosunde; the list goes on and on. The point is, the team was talented and they knew it. Throughout their whole cycle (from 2013-2015) the team played a beautiful style of soccer. One touch, give and go, filling in spaces, just beautiful attacking soccer that had everyone salivating at their prospects.
Then the World Cup arrived. The pressure to perform well grew. A strong group caused some match-up problems for the U.S. and they reverted back to a cautious stylistic approach. Tense defensively, counter-attacking, lob-it-up-to-a-striker-and-hope-something-happens type of soccer. You know the deal. The team was a shell of itself and struggled, losing two, drawing once and being sent home. A team full of tremendous talent, wasted in three matches.
Richie Williams, the head coach of that team, buckled under the pressure of getting results and reverted back to the safe style that has been rooted in American soccer for the longest time. A style with the sole purpose of winning at all costs.
I’ve seen some talk around the Atlanta United fan base that it’s time to switch things up. A traditional 4-4-2 is what we need! More crosses into the box is what we need! Lob it up to Kenwyne Jones more!
Darren Eales has steadily promised for the better part of the last two years that Atlanta would be fast, fluid, attacking and overall exciting. It’s clear from the last two matches that the team is struggling to live up to those promises at the current time. However, that doesn’t mean it’s time to abandon a two-year philosophical game plan nine matches into the inaugural season.
Abandoning your core philosophy just because results aren’t going your way all the time is silly. It’s undeniable that Kenwyne at striker doesn’t allow Tata Martino to utilize his ideal system. A system that lit MLS on fire the first three matches of the season when Josef Martinez was available. Some patience is required at this juncture in the season. Reverting to a more traditional and safe approach now could ruin the team’s understanding of what Tata wants to do when all of the pieces are back at his disposal.
In an ideal world, Atlanta United would’ve had a back-up striker in Josef’s mold who who would have allowed the team to continue playing the way it was built to play. Unfortunately, as a expansion franchise, the time wasn’t there to perfectly structure the depth of the roster. Decisions were made before Martino ever arrived that handicapped the depth chart to some extent. This can be proven by the amount of playing time that both Kenwyne and Chris McCann have received through preseason and the first nine matches.
Just because Tata is forced to fill in the gaps with players who don’t bring out the best in his style of play doesn’t mean it’s time to rip out the soul of what made the club so fun to watch in March. Doing that now could severely hinder the progress made through the first two months the team was together. Sometimes the philosophy has to take precedence over results.
As long as the framework for what Martino wants to accomplish is still intact once Martinez is fit, sacrificing a few results is worth it. Everyone knew that there would be struggles in year one. Nine matches into the season is not time to panic and tear the whole philosophy apart just to win a few random matches in May.
If I could have a friendly chat with Tata (or maybe he reads this blog, who knows?), I would beg him not to revert to some archaic system just because traditional wisdom calls for it. Be persistent, be patient and overall be confident in what Atlanta United is building for the long term and eventually the positive results will come.