Let’s do a little compare and contrast this morning. As we go into the mid-season break, Matt Pentz of ESPNFC.com and Matt Doyle of MLSSoccer.com gave us two mid year rankings of all teams across the league.
Where was Atlanta United? Well Doyle has the Five Stripes planted in the top tier of teams as contenders for MLS Cup. His only downside is that the defense could be more consistent. Fair enough, but a top six team in the league as an expansion side is beyond impressive, it is historic in MLS. Atlanta may be fourth in the East and eight points off of the top of the conference, but that would be good for third in the West with just one point separating the team from the top spot.
Doyle also had some nice things to say about the team noting that,
“The thing I love most about Atlanta, though? They have no mercy at all. There is no sense to this team that they're "easing into the regular season" or playing for a point on the road or sitting on a lead.”
The fact that the team has an identity at all and that it is playing up to it to such a degree that it has as an expansion side helps explain why 16 teams in the league are looking up at Atlanta United in the overall table.
On the other side is Matt Pentz who saw Atlanta demolish San Jose and looked at some of the team’s other impressive performances and graded the Five Stripes against the other teams in MLS. He gave United a B.
Here’s his reasoning:
“That might seem harsh for a side on track to become the fourth expansion team to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs in its first season, but it also speaks to the level of anticipation and respect for what Tata Martino & Co. are attempting to accomplish down in Georgia. Atlanta still hasn't figured out how to turn positive performances into consistent results, and until then, there is room for improvement.”
Did you catch that? In sum, Atlanta is so good that the team can’t get an A.
Sure, the Five Stripes have had some dud performances, but a B? The team has the most goals scored in MLS, is 6th in the overall table, 4th in the East, and is tied for 8th in goals allowed. What about the team’s away form you ask? What about it? Atlanta United has more away wins than any team in the Western Conference aside from the LA Galaxy and has more points on the road than the first place Chicago Fire.
The Houston Dynamo, who haven’t won a game away from home, got an A, San Jose who just fired their coach got a B, and Orlando City got a B + despite having just one player who can score goals. I mean really, that’s who is graded higher than Atlanta United? I went to Georgia Tech, I think I know grade inflation when I see it. On top of that Atlanta United, who got a B, have won matches against Houston and NYCFC, who both earned an A, and managed a draw against Toronto FC, a team getting an A+.
I may disagree with this and think that a team who made the goal of competing in their first year in MLS and thought they might have a chance at the playoffs has actually defied expectations. United sits in 4th place in the East currently and played the majority of the season without starting striker Josef Martinez and hasn’t had goalkeeper Brad Guzan available at all. If those two were with the team all year, who knows where United would be in the table.
That said, Pentz has a point, Atlanta United can do better in the second half of the season. If they do, it is not hype to say that they’ll be real contenders for MLS Cup by the start of the playoffs.