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NYCFC 3-1 Atlanta United: What we learned

NYCFC schooled Atlanta on its home field at Yankee Stadium

MLS: Atlanta United FC at New York City FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

New York City FC taught Atlanta United a lesson in how to control the game while creating chances – something Atlanta United has struggled to do recently – as they defeated the Five Stripes 3-1 on a dreary Sunday at Yankee Stadium. Here’s what we learned.

NYCFC is a force at Yankee Stadium

With such a unique setup in terms of the field dimensions and other factors at Yankee Stadium, credit needs to be given to the home side for making it a true home field advantage. Most home field advantages are down to a feisty crowd who can influence the referee, or the geographic location that makes it a long trip to make. But NYCFC have an advantage at their home field that is tactical, and Patrick Vieira and his staff have to be given credit for the way they’ve outfitted their team to play there. At the back, they don’t get too creative and keep things tight between the central midfielders and defensive line to keep creative midfielders away from the danger areas. On the other end of the field, spearheaded by David Villa, the team plays with fluidity and style that is ruthless and clinical. They can strike in the blink of an eye, moving the ball from defense to attack quickly and directly. They did all of the above Sunday, stamping a dominant victory.

Yankee Stadium was a bad fit for Atlanta

The famous boxing line that “styles make fights” seems appropriate when analyzing a match like this. For all the reasons why the field dimensions at Yankee Stadium help the home side, you can make an argument that they’re the perfect foil for what Tata Martino wants from his Atlanta United side. NYCFC’s ability to transition quickly was especially effective considering how high up the field Atlanta’s fullbacks play. On such a narrow pitch, it gives the wide forwards for New York some leniency when it comes to retreating to help defend. This allows players like Jack Harrsion and Rodney Wallace to play closer to Villa – and Atlanta’s goal – intensifying the threat they’d normally represent. In such a tight space, Atlanta had trouble stringing passes together, and ended up looking rudderless. There didn’t seem to be a coherent style of play for Atlanta on Sunday for a myriad of reasons, but the problems stemmed from the pitch – and NYCFC’s comfort and experience playing on it.

Atlanta must figure out what to do at striker

For the second consecutive week, Atlanta United looked toothless up front with Kenwyne Jones leading the line. He only looks a threat on aerial balls, like the header he scored last week vs. D.C. United, which is a problem considering how important the movement of the striker is in Tata Martino’s style of play. This is not simply a case of us missing Josef’s goals, but it’s a case of us missing his dynamic athleticism that forces the opposition to defend differently and create opportunities for others. Jones simply doesn’t provide this, and defenses can play Atlanta much more aggressively without adding risk.

This leaves the question, if Kenwyne is not a good starting option for this team if Martinez is unavailable, what is his worth to the team? That’s a good question, and I’m sure it’s something that will be debated in the coming days, weeks and months. I would guess that the team would like to get him off the books through a trade or some other sort of transaction buried in MLS’s rulebook, which is about as complicated as the U.S. tax code. He’s a player who was signed before Tata Martino arrived and implemented his style, and he just looks like a square peg in a round hole at this point.

Atlanta United lacks confidence and direction

It’s been many weeks now since we’ve seen the Atlanta United team that we saw in the first few weeks of the season. If you cast your mind back to Atlanta’s MLS debut against New York Red Bulls – even in the loss – the team looked fast and dynamic in attack. Sunday, the only similarity from that team were the shirts. The players don’t look like they have the same confidence and the ball moves slower and with less purpose. More and more players look like they’re hiding rather than actively looking for the ball. Is this because they’re afraid to make a mistake? Are they tired? Are they simply passing the buck? It’s impossible for us to know, but things don’t look right at the moment, and it’s up to Tata to improve morale and the style of play.

In this respect, it will be interesting to see if he starts to change anything tactically. If he’s dead set on the fullbacks pushing up the field, might he switch to a back 3 to offer more defensive solidity? Many coaches who truly believe in their long-term project will be less reluctant to make tactical changes from match-to-match. This is because, with the luxury of time on their side, they can afford to take their lumps while stamping the club with a certain style. The more you tinker from week-to-week, it’s more difficult for players to adapt a permanent style. Atlanta is obviously a club still in its infancy, so these problems are only natural with better times on the way.

Andrew Carleton is probably ready to get his feet wet in MLS

While Atlanta was getting pummeled in New York, Andrew Carleton was busy continuing to score bangers for the USMNT U-17 team that he helped qualify for the World Cup, to take place this October. The team lost in the [meaningless] championship, but Carleton continued to dazzle. He scored a beautiful chip vs. Cuba a couple days ago, and followed it up with this turning volley.

With his club clearly lacking spark, it might be time for the teenage Atlanta United Academy product to get his shot as a substitute. He’s an incredible talent – one that would probably be playing in Europe right now if he had a maroon-colored passport – and there’s a reason he hasn’t been loaned to the Charleston Battery this year.