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Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 Atlanta United: 4 Things We Learned

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Atlanta United fall in a wacky, chaotic mess of game.

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MLS: Atlanta United FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United has a thing for these 3-1 results. Unfortunately, they were on the wrong side of the score line this week. United made its third cross-continental trip to Cascadia so far this season, having racked up the most miles traveled in MLS. Here’s what we learned from the 3-1 loss:

Atlanta United need to find a solution defending corners

You can say that set pieces lost the game for Atlanta United today, as they were dominated in the air – specifically by Kendall Waston. All three of goals conceded by Atlanta came from corner kicks. The second two were both simple crosses into the box where Waston got great leaps and directed the ball back across the keeper, picking up a goal and an assist. The first goal, which originated from a corner, exposed a different problem aside from aerial ability. Atlanta was lackadaisical in spreading out and moving the ball after taking possession in their own box. A dispossession and quick ball back in was served on a platter for Waston, who hadn’t even started jogging back yet from the corner.

The “solution” isn’t a certain play chalked up on a whiteboard with X’s and O’s and learning what to do – it’s more holistic than that. It’s making sure everyone is focused. Making sure everyone knows what to do after the ball is headed away. Having a general plan that allows players to react instinctively when they need to and know their teammate is on the same page. There just seems to be a lot of confusion right now.

Atlanta United needs to find a solution to taking corners

Atlanta looked just as dismal taking free kicks as they were defending them, but this isn’t nearly as big of a surprise. Atlanta has looked inconsistent and nonthreatening from corners since day one. It’s clear that Tata Martino is adamant on taking short corner kicks. I’m not against this, but I am against it if we’re as bad at it as we are. The problem is that you don’t get better at this kind of thing unless you practice it in real competitive situations. I don’t think we’ll go away from doing it. Nothing we know about Martino tells us he’s someone who will just give up on something that isn’t working, he’ll want the players to execute better. And actually, he’s right that short corners, taken more precisely, offer a greater chance to score a goal. This article from The Telegraph has some nifty graphics and charts to help explain.

Julian Gressel has, for now, cemented his spot on the right

Every time we think we can’t speak more superlatives about Gressel’s rejuvenated play on the right wing, he keeps on surprising us. It’s time to stop being surprised. He has a great soccer IQ that makes him extremely dangerous because he knows where the defense can be exploited at any given moment. He gets into good positions and spots dangerous runs from his teammates. There were a couple moments where he nearly combined with RB Tyrone Mears down the right, but on both occasions Mears halted his run. But the plays show that the idea is there.

That’s not to say what he’s doing now isn’t superb – it is. He was the lone bright spot in this game, and deserves credit for at least half of Greg Garza’s goal in the 7th minute. It was a beautiful ball that he had to hit first time before the defenders were back in position, increasing the difficulty of execution tenfold. How do you take that quality out of the lineup? You’d be crazy!

Atlanta didn’t have a “Plan B”

Unlike Atlanta’s last 3-1 loss to NYCFC a month ago, Atlanta had good spells of possession with the ball – at times. When The Five Stripes were able to progress the ball to the final third, they set up camp and moved the ball around well. But this happened far too often. Their problem was progressing the ball past the first phase of Vancouver’s press, who denied short passing options. It’s often said that pressing teams don’t like to be pressed, and that true because those teams don’t like to play the ball long. (Pressing requires lots of energy, so teams that do it want to keep the ball as much as possible.) Vancouver was begging for Atlanta to play long balls vertically down the field. This initial phase of possession is where Atlanta was most vulnerable, and that didn’t change all game, especially after Vancouver took the lead. The problems that cropped up in the first half didn’t change all game. Atlanta generally looked stifled and the game was pretty much sealed when Vancouver scored the third goal.