Some things have worked really well for Atlanta United in certain matches and not so much in others. At times the team has played route one, tried to hold possession and break teams down, or pressed like a hipster at a coffee shop and tried to break on transition. One tactic that seemingly hasn’t worked, based on scoring a goal off of one at least, is short corner kicks.
Does that mean the team should abandon their corner kicking strategy?
Some think so and this has become a cause celebre on social media, just look at these tweets:
Is more practice the answer?
Are they just the result of poor engineering or a weird attempt at anti-comedy?
These corners are just comically inefficient for #ATLUTD— Doug Roberson (@DougRobersonAJC) June 10, 2017
Perhaps the players need to blood feed more often before attempting them?
Atlanta United players are like vampires, they hate crosses even from corners @ATLUTD— Anthony Prince (@iamprincenkunga) June 10, 2017
Here at Dirty South Soccer we’re committed to breaking down all facets of Atlanta United’s tactics and game planning, we also love buddy cop movies (O.K., well Rob does and he’s the boss so we humor him) that explore themes of good and evil through the trope of good cop/bad cop. So imagine Parker is Jake Hoyt and Rob is Alonzo Harris and let’s investigate the case of the short corner.
Good Cop: The Five Stripes aren’t very tall. Of the regular starters on the team, Alec Kann is the tallest at 6’ 4” and he isn’t going to be in the box on corner kicks. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is 6’ 0,” Julian Gressel and Jeff Larentowicz are 6’ 1.” Even Kenwyne Jones stands at 6’ 2.” Other players on the team stand somewhere between 5’ 7” and 5’ 11,” that isn’t going to give an advantage on out jumping the likes of Kendall Waston at 6’ 5,” Fanendo Adi at 6’ 4,” Alex Crognale at 6’ 4,” and is going to be a push at best against teams with average height players like the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls.
Bad Cop: Forgive the old school mentality, but there’s more to traditional corners than just height. What ever happened to heart, soul and guts? Coach Eric Taylor preached “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” There’s something to that, especially when fighting for space in the penalty area. Then there’s also the luck factor. Anything can happen when you put a cross into the mixer. A nasty deflection, an own goal, a foul. Anything is possible when you attempt to put the ball in the box. To play it short every single time, you’re negating any possibility of that luck factor falling your way.
Good Cop: They’re consistent with Atlanta’s playing style. Tata wants the ball and catapulting a high hopeful corner towards the opposition’s ramparts isn’t going to keep it. It may be more useful to think of short corners like they’re quick restarts on free kicks more than set pieces filled with hope that something good happens. In a sense, abandoning the short corner abandons part of the identity that Tata is trying to create and the team should stick with them rather than hoof and hope.
Bad Cop: In theory, playing a short corner to keep pressure on your opponent when momentum is on your side, is a sound one. The problem is, Atlanta United aren’t very good at doing that. They seem to turn the ball over and create problems for themselves on the defensive end twice as much as they create a strong chance from one. Maybe the the answer is they need to practice them more if the alternative of putting in a cross isn’t going to happen.
Good Cop: There aren’t that many goals scored on corners anyway. Only 3% of goals come from corner kicks and if you do a lot of math you’ll find that the value for a corner is .03 goals - the same as a shot from 30 yards out. And you would be screaming at your television or trying to get the supporters groups to lead a ‘don’t shoot from 30 yards out’ chant at Bobby Dodd if the Five Stripes launched shots like they were Michael Bradley at El Azteca every time they could.
Bad Cop: I failed math a couple of times, but I believe 3% is greater than 0%.
Good Cop: Corners are more likely to lead to counterattacks than keeping possession: A study from the Premier League showed that counters started off of corner kicks have a 40% higher chance of scoring than an average play. Short corners keep the ball and if Atlanta’s opposition doesn’t have they ball, they can’t counter and score.
Bad Cop: As stated previously, they aren’t doing a very effective job of this. Several times this season a goal or great chance has been conceded on the other end off a direct result of a poorly played short corner routine. So much so that some fans have been asking the team to just forfeit their corner kicks instead of trying ... what ever it is they’re trying.
Good Cop: Baseless hot take: I have no evidence for this, but I imagine that corners aren’t high on the list of priorities for United in practice. The team has only been together for four months and the season is just 14 games old. Between matches Atlanta has three or four training sessions and implementing an overall game plan in that time is more important than running corner drills for plays that have a low percentage of leading to goals anyway.
Bad Cop: If that’s the case, it would seem a much more productive strategy to just hoof it into the box. Let’s be honest, that’s how the majority of Atlanta’s attacks from open play end anyways. What’s the difference here?
Good Cop: Someone named Alistair Tweedale (that’s the Eurosnobbiest sounding footy writer name of all time) notes that taking a short corner leverages a team with skilled technical players’ talents, he uses the example of Liverpool but Atlanta certainly is built around that type of player, to get opportunities on goal that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Bad Cop: In an ideal world where Atlanta United can keep the ball instead of carelessly turning it over, this strategy makes sense. Unfortunately we don’t live in that world. I love Yamil Asad and Miguel Almiron (the two corner takers the majority of the time) but they aren’t exactly masters at not giving the ball away in tight spaces. Philippe Coutinho isn’t walking through that door.
Good Cop: Atlanta is the best MLS team at scoring from open play: Atlanta leads the league in goals scored with 28 and 25 or 26 have been from open play depending on who you ask. The short corner plays into the team’s strengths and gives more opportunities to score from open play than a ham footed cross searching in vain for the forehead of one of United’s taller, but not taller than average, players. The long corner is like trying to win a road race with a monster truck when you have a garage full of Lamborghinis.
Bad Cop: The majority of Atlanta’s goals come from counter-attacks, not breaking down a composed and organized backline. This isn’t Tata Martino’s Barcelona we’re talking about here. There’s no Tiki-Taka being played in Atlanta. Maybe we should petition MLS to let us take our corner kicks on the opposite end of the field to let us run at the opposition in the open field. That seems like it would be more effective.
In sum, there are reasons to both keep and abandon the short corner. So far it is a tactic that is a work in progress, but the fact remains that they aren’t yielding results and in the end that’s what really matters. Officer Parker is willing to give them a second chance, while Sheriff Rob is hauling them to the hoosegow. One thing is for sure no matter how it comes, Atlanta needs to make more of their corner kicks.