The MLS version of the Christmas schedule congestion in the English Premier League is upon us. After winning 2-0 on Saturday against the Columbus Crew, Atlanta United will host the San Jose Earthquakes on the Fourth of July in their eight match in just less than a month. Playing a game on just two days rest and with only one day of training to prepare will be challenging for the club.
While Atlanta United is working on short rest after coming home from Columbus, Ohio, the San Jose Earthquakes are preparing the game on short rest after ending their game late at night on Saturday and flying across the country. The Quakes arrived yesterday, but the toll on them will be greater than United faces heading into tomorrow.
Add to it that San Jose is working on implementing a new manager’s system. This is also a challenge for Atlanta United. A new coach offers a limited sample of matches to learn tendencies and tactics from. Coach Martino isn’t worried though. The matches the United coaching staff have watched San Jose play against the Sounders and Galaxy, “over those two games, we’ve been able to get a good idea of how they like to play.”
Though the Five Stripes are riding high at home winning four straight at Bobby Dodd, the team is still looking to finish strong heading into the break. Carlos Carmona told reporters, “it’s important to win, we just have to enter the game like we’ve been playing the last couple of games. We have to keep working hard and hopefully we can win and head into the break on a good note.” A victory against San Jose could put Atlanta as high as 4th in the MLS table and keep their momentum going forward when they travel to Orlando City when the Gold Cup break ends.
Concentration and Intensity will be Key
Both Greg Garza and coach Tata Martino discussed the importance of maintaining concentration and intensity against the Earthquakes. In games against Vancouver and DC United, the team has gone up early and then failed to protect their lead. In the last two matches, the Five Stripes have beat a poor Colorado Rapids team and a Crew team that bristles with attacking options.
Asked what was different in keeping clean sheets in those two games Greg Garza told reporters, “a bit more concentration, I think we’ve held our ground pretty well in the back. With that said, this league is a roller-coaster so you never know what can happen in any game.” Worse still, after giving up the equalizing goal, the Five Stripes have struggled to fight back in games they’ve struggled in and came away with disappointing results.
Asked if he had discussed the importance of maintaining intensity against San Jose Tata said, “it’s something that we’re constantly talking about with the team. We’ve seen in our other games when we’ve lacked intensity that it’s important like DC, Vancouver, Miami, so it’s something that we’re aware of.” Though Atlanta seems to have turned the corner when it comes to finding and keeping the level of intensity throughout a match, the MLS roller-coaster could go off the tracks at any moment and this will be a key aspect Tuesday evening as well.
Waiting for Wondo and Defensive Success
San Jose has three straight wins in all competitions, but has managed just 20 goals in 18 matches. Despite that they sit in fifth place in the Western Conference. Asked how he explains the success of the Earthquakes despite their infrequent goal scoring, coach Martino said, “they have forwards like Wondolowski that don’t need a lot of chances to be effective, they’re able to convert with the few chances that they have.” Say what you will about Wondo, but he has been one of the most successful strikers in MLS over the past half decade and beyond.
Greg Garza, who has been with the striker in U.S. Men’s National Team camps, discussed what makes him so dangerous and important for his team saying, “he’s probably one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen, his professionalism level is out of this world, and he’s ten years older than me.” Asked if there was a specific way to defend the poacher, Garza quipped, “if you have eyes in the back of your head, you can figure it out.”
The Earthquakes are largely a counterattacking team. They rely on absorbing pressure, keeping their shape, and then exploiting space behind teams with too many players forward in attack. Atlanta United has been the victim of scoring early and then letting teams find space behind to equalize and then take the lead. Asked if he thought the team was finding more balance in transitioning from attack to defense after two clean sheets, coach Martino told reporters “two games is a small sample size, but in the last game we did it better and didn’t make a lot of mistakes.” The Five Stripes will need to find that balance again to keep their win streak going.
- Congratulations to Carlos Carmona who will be holding his wedding ceremony back in Chile during the Gold Cup break.
- Carmona also thought Chile had a good enough team to win the Confederations Cup yesterday and lamented the loss to Germany.
- Tata doesn't know what to expect for the 4th of July but he welcomes a more rowdy atmosphere on the holiday.
- Greg Garza hasn’t been back in the U.S. to celebrate the 4th of July since 2015 for the Gold Cup, and before that he hadn’t celebrated Independence Day stateside in 13 years.