Well...that was fun. Atlanta United followed up a strong performance in Portland with possibly their best of the season in a 4-1 win over Houston Dynamo. The only two matches that come close are the wins against Minnesota and Chicago. The Chicago match was against 10 men for the majority of the match and Minnesota were still in their “we don’t look like a pro soccer team” phase of the season. I think it’s safe to say this was the best overall from start to finish by the Five Stripes.
We saw glimpses of the Atlanta United high-flying, exciting brand of soccer that lit Major League Soccer on fire through the first weeks of the season. On the shoulders of Miguel Almiron who was pulling the strings and finishing the chances. He was doing it all for Atlanta on the night.
It appears that the side has put that horrid two-match losing streak behind them as they’ve looked more like themselves in their last two. If not for a late penalty for Houston it could’ve been considered a perfect night. Here’s what we learned from the lopsided performance and victory:
Miguel Almiron heard the criticism and adjusted
“Why didn’t Almiron shoot?” — “Miguel needs to shoot more!” — “For the love of god, shoot Miggy!”
That about sums up the responses to Miguel Almiron passing up on several scoring opportunities against Portland last weekend in favor of trying to create a goal with his playmaking ability. Well, he heard those criticisms and even agreed with them. Tonight he didn’t let the chances go by. He was aggressive, direct and hungry all night long. The change in mentality paid huge dividends with him netting a hat trick including two sensational first half goals.
It was his second goal that particularly showed his switch in mentality. Finding the ball at his feet at the top of the box, he was immediately confronted by a defender. After eluding him and keeping possession, he could’ve easily have tried to lay it off for someone else to have a shot on goal. Instead, with very little space to work in, he decided to have a strike on goal and it flew perfectly into the corner of the net. It was decisive and precise. It was the Miguel Almiron we’ve wanted to see. Please more of that, Miggy.
Tata Martino finally found the right lineup to replace Josef Martinez
It’s finally happened. Atlanta United have found the right combination of players to overcome the loss of Josef Martinez’s impact up top. In a cruel twist of (something I don’t have the vocabulary to think of), it’s probably happened just as the dynamic Venezuelan is close to returning.
Aside from Greg Garza coming back into the fold at left back, the lineup remained the same as the Portland match and it continued to look very strong. Julian Gressel’s move to the wing has been a revelation. For my money, he puts in better service from the flank than Tito Villalba when he plays there. Yamil Asad on the opposite side was very good again. His link-up play with Almiron and Garza was deadly for the majority of the night.
The overall comfort level of the 11 on the field in the current set-up is obvious. Each player knows their role and what they’re supposed to do. The bittersweet fact is, just as we’ve found the answer, we could see it broken up once Martinez is ready to return. Such is the dilemma of being a soccer manager.
Andrew Carleton isn’t scared of anything
Well it finally happened. The 16-year-old phenom finally stepped on the field to make his competitive debut for Atlanta United. It was a perfect opportunity for it as Atlanta were cruising 4-0 at the time. The sold out crowd went bananas as “Frosted Orange” entered the match.
This video doesn't do justice how loud it was when he came on. What a moment for the young man. pic.twitter.com/bOt41IkMRI— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) May 21, 2017
A huge moment in the very young man’s career, you know he had to have some kind of butterflies as he ran onto the field in front of all those people in his first MLS match. Most kids his age or even older would probably spend their 6-8 minutes on the field hoping the ball doesn’t come their way. Not Andrew Carleton. With his first real touch of the ball, he confidently and calmly flicked a perfect chess pass to a teammate:
His next touch? Running in on goal against a four-time World Cup veteran in DaMarcus Beasley. He didn’t back-off. He didn’t cower. He ran right at him and made something happen.
This is why he’s playing professional soccer at 16 years of age. He’s fearless with the ball at his feet and always tries to make something happen. He may not be a featured star player for Atlanta United this season, but it’s clear that the raw talent is there and just needs to be polished. Under a fantastic manager like Tata Martino, his future is extremely bright. HYPE. HYPE. HYPE.