It wasn’t pretty at times, but Atlanta United put in a professional performance without one of their star players (Josef Martinez) to earn a valuable three road points to a conference and regional rival. Yeah, I said rival. Here’s what we learned:
Orlando fans are a miserable bunch
Where do we start here? The pre-match punch ups? The tifo of a violent sociopath choosing which Atlanta player to beat with a barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat? The countless amount of middle fingers waving at me through the TV screen from fans in the crowd? These people seem absolutely miserable. Is it the heat and humidity of central Florida? Is it the fact that they score barely more than a goal per game (ranking second-to last in MLS)? There’s something different about this motley crew, and it isn’t good. None of the above can be described as endearing or supportive. It’s just... trashy. Florida, man.
Atlanta United players were hot
Humidity is a b****. The conditions last night were some of the most difficult possible in which to play soccer. Hot, humid, sticky... in that kind of weather, you feel like you aren’t even taking in enough oxygen to breathe properly because the air is so thick. Every player was covered in a layer of water that was a combination of sweat and accumulated moisture from the air. And it showed, for sure. The play in the second half slowed down and a draw appeared to be the most likely result on the cards. Credit Atlanta’s players for putting in a major shift in the difficult condition and doing enough to come home with three points.
Actually, Brad Guzan is good
I don't think Guzan just walks into the team. Healthy Kann >/= Guzan— Jon Bon Knowlzi (@dingilusberrius) July 20, 2017
Guzan is going to have fun watching Kann start for AUFC in September— Ryan Keefer (@reefa_k) July 1, 2017
Guzan has no footwork anymore. He can't play the ball with his feet or distribute the ball. That is key to how we play. Kann is a better fit— Jeffery (@jcsteimer) June 22, 2017
Errrrr.... about that. Guzan was incredible last night and deserved why he’s an international veteran and a key cog to this Atlanta United team.
Atlanta is starting to grind out the wins
Forget road wins, at the beginning of the season, Atlanta struggled to secure vicotry in games in which they outplayed the opposition. Home losses to New York Red Bulls and D.C. United were characteristic of the team’s stylish, if not tepid approach. The switch didn’t happen overnight, but over the course of the season, we’ve seen a gradual change to a more pragmatic, intelligent and savvy approach to the game. Atlanta’s player’s weren’t overly aggressive in every possible moment like they may have been earlier in the season. Instead, they sat back at times and absorbed pressure, partly to save their lungs and partly to give them gaps to exploit. This is all a part of the learning process that is required by expansion teams that are typically comprised of players who are accustomed to different leagues that present differing challenges from MLS. It’s encouraging to see, because it’s these types of performances that you need in October if you want to advance in the playoffs and lift a trophy.
Tito Villalba ain’t a bad striker
I will be the first to tell you that Villalba has his limitations. But he can #doajob as a lone front man, and it wasn’t just his thunderbastard of a goal in the 86th minute that proves it. First of all, he has tremendous energy, and covers a ton of ground in the defensive phases, which is a necessity in a system that features a lone striker. Said striker need to be the catalyst in applying pressure to the opposition so that players can react in the press, and Tito gives so much to the team in these moments. He’s also a very clean striker of the ball, which seems simple but is one of the core fundamentals for a potent goalscorer. If you look at some of the best stirkers in the world — Robert Lewandowski, Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero, Cristiano Ronaldo -- they all strike the ball incredibly clean, which gives them plenty of power in their shots. Sometimes, that’s all you need to get the ball in the back of the net. Villalba has sevral goals this season that are mostly down to this kind of powerful strike — goals at Toronto and at Columbus come to mind. Tonight’s, though, absolutely takes the cake and probably stands out as Atlanta’s goal of the season thus far.