After dominating Atlanta United in the first week of May, NYCFC came down south looking to bookend the month with wins against the expansion side. But they were denied as Atlanta avenged the result with a 3-1 win of their own. What did we learn? Glad you asked!
A ghost was exorcised
For many Atlanta United fans, myself included, the loss to NYCFC from a few weeks ago has lingered. Despite the improved performance the following week and the beatdown of Houston Dynamo that followed, there was still that creeping feeling in the back of the mind – is Atlanta truly a top-tier team? Sunday’s 3-1 reciprocation against NYCFC served as solid evidence that Atlanta United can indeed beat any team in this league. It’s even more impressive that Atlanta was able to secure the win despite not playing its best game overall. The team looked scarily sloppy in the opening ten minutes, and then conceded the ball to NYCFC for a majority of the second half. That said, Atlanta looked as potent as ever in the attack, highlighted by the 3-goal outburst during a seven-minute span in the first half.
Atlanta can win without the ball
Atlanta United had its smallest share of possession all season in what turned out to be one of its most impressive victories. The Five Stripes have been one of the league’s best teams at keeping hold of the ball coming into the game. But Sunday, Atlanta was happy to play without it as they amassed a mark of only 43% possession – less than they had against NYCFC (away), Toronto, or even Montreal when they played half the game with 10 men.
Both teams pressed tenaciously to start the game, and Atlanta looked the more likely to concede through the first ten minutes as Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Tyrone Mears committed some shaky touches that put Atlanta in danger. But as the game wore on, it became clear that Atlanta had a more coherent plan to progress the ball upfield than NYCFC. The visitors passed it around the back and in their own half, while Atlanta was able to link just enough passes going forward to conclude in goal threats. Look at the first half passing maps from each team, and it’s clear that Atlanta was able to string together more progressive passes.
You can’t look away when watching Atlanta United
One of the best things about watching this team is that the goals can come suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere. But it’s kind of a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, it keeps you on the edge of your seat at all times. Even when things seem to be going poorly for the Five Stripes, one through ball to a speedster like Miguel Almiron, Tito Villalba or Josef Martinez can turn a game around in a flash. Sunday, this ability was easy to see during the team’s goal rush in the first half. The first goal happened suddenly when Tito recovered a sloppy pass in the middle of the field and played Gressel through down the right side to set up the opener. The way this team presses, marking opponents tightly high up the pitch, means that a turnover can suddenly result in a scoring opportunity.
The downside of this is that you must time your bathroom and/or beer breaks carefully. I totally missed the third goal, but I hear it was good.
The Five Stripes have figured out Bobby Dodd Stadium
Atlanta United’s temporary home didn’t seem to fit just right through the team’s first few home games as they lost two of their first three games at Bobby Dodd. While the support has always been top notch (Atlanta United celebrated a 5th straight sellout of BDS Sunday), there were questions about whether the stadium suited the players. Was the field too small? Did the small stadium footprint affect the players? Was the aluminum bench making their butts sore? After a disappointing loss to lowly D.C. United at home, all of these questions and more were being asked. But after back-to-back convincing wins in the home stadium (for now), all is well. In fact, it’s more than well, it’s pretty effing great. The players have talked to the media and posted on social media about how great the atmosphere is and how much they love playing in front of the home fans. So while the upturn in form at home is predominantly due to tactical adjustments, major credit must be given to all the fans (not just the supporters section) for creating such an electric atmosphere for the team.