Atlanta United topped an opponent away from Bobby Dodd for the first time since April on Saturday night and the timing could not have been better. After a tough loss on Wednesday, United needed to bounce back strong and is now in a position to head into the Copa Oro break on a three game winning streak.
For their part, San Jose is, how do I put this? Weird. Not in the “Keep Little Five Points Weird” way, this team is odd. Not many clubs would win a game and then fire their manager, even if they are looking to go in a new direction. The match against LA may have been as much about who was missing for the Galaxy, Giovani dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes, Romain Alessandrini, and a keeper who remembers how to use his hands, than San Jose out playing them. That said, the team is riding a three game winning streak across all competitions and will pose some challenges to Atlanta United.
Anyway, here’s what to watch for...
Kinnearball is Dead! Long Live Kinnearball!
Dom Kinnear was fired because new GM Jesse Fioranelli wants the team to play more of a possession oriented style. It will take the team a while to implement this and so far there hasn’t been much sign of it. The match against the LA Galaxy was fairly back and forth with each team having chances and the game looking like it would end in a draw until a last minute go ahead goal by Shea Salinas.
Their style wasn’t anything new under interim manager Chris Leitch and that won’t change in two days. San Jose does their best to keep their shape defensively and then spring on the counter. The Five Stripes should expect to see a lot of that this week and if they are able to hold off the Quakes counter attacks and break them down defensively, they should be riding a three game winning streak into the break.
Let’s Not Get Physical
In the game at NYCFC, against the Red Bulls in the opener, against D.C. United, and in the Colorado match, the Five Stripes’ opponents resorted to physical play to slow down the game. San Jose is no stranger to these types of tactics. Miguel Almiron may consider wearing two pairs of shin guards this weekend and the unique ability of Yamil Asad to draw fouls will surely come in handy.
Speaking of Yamil Asad, he, Carlos Carmona, and Julian Gressel have shown that they can be, shall we say a little... indelicate in the tackle. San Jose is a team that likes to play physical and get under their opponents’ skin. Whether it is frustration, a badly timed tackle, or a momentary lapse in concentration, the Five Stripes cannot afford fouls that change the course of the game. Simply put, the team needs all eleven players on the field to beat a team like San Jose. If the calls aren’t going the team’s way, and it seems like they haven’t been, the players need to maintain their composure to have the best chance at getting a favorable result.
Stop Hitting Yourself
Atlanta United has tended to lose to teams that are worse than the Five Stripes. DC United, twice, and the Vancouver Whitecaps have neither the talent or skill to beat a team like Atlanta, and yet they’ve collectively won by a score of 8-3. These teams have the common trait of letting Atlanta score first and then when United fails to protect the lead, finding a second goal somehow making them chase the game.
For their part, San Jose isn’t very good at scoring goals, they have 20 in 18 games which isn’t very many. They beat the L.A. Galaxy (please laugh) at the death on Saturday night and despite not scoring often, the Quakes play hard and don’t quit for 90 plus minutes. The team doesn’t have a playmaker and largely relies on the sheer force of will of Chris Wondolowski to score goals.
Put your Wondo jokes in the toilet, he is one of the best strikers in MLS over the past seven seasons. He has made a career out of being laughed at and leaving his detractors in a pool of tears. What’s more, he is built to get goals against a team like Atlanta United. If United is caught too far forward, San Jose is absolutely the kind of team that can punish the Five Stripes on the counter and Chris Wondolowski is the type of striker to beat his mark on set pieces and turn sloppy clearances into costly goals.
If Atlanta United can manage to overcome the remnants of Kinnearball, keep their wits about them, and avoid costly errors, the team should be celebrating their third MLS win in a row with fireworks on the 4th of July.