Atlanta United come in to their second straight mid-week game looking for a win after a thrilling draw against the Orlando City Soccer Club. Given that the visiting team took the lead three times just to watch Josef Martinez even the score, it may seem odd to say that the result was a little disappointing but a disjointed performance from the defense let Orlando steal a draw away to Atlanta for the second time this season. Still, the Five stripes are scoring seemingly whenever they want and have 13 goals in their last three games.
The LA Galaxy are a stark contrast to Atlanta. Nothing they have tried this season has worked. Giovani dos Santos looks less like the player who should be one of the best attackers in the league based on his 2016 season and more like the wandering, creative player who could never really settle down and make his mark at any point in his career. His brother Jonathan hasn’t been the stabilizing force in the midfield that promised to set the tempo for the team. Jermaine Jones looks like the acquisition that had many scratching their heads to start the season and at 35 has been injured for much of the year. Meanwhile, the backline has never solidified with a rotating cast of characters that have had trouble gelling into a cohesive unit all playing in front of no fewer than three starting goal keepers.
The results for LA speak for themselves, last weekend’s 4-0 drubbing to a Toronto FC team that didn’t even bother bringing along Giovinco or Jozy Altidore really illustrate how much the team has struggled. In many ways, it was a game that spoke loudly to why LA is sitting in 10th place in the Western Conference, yes even behind Minnesota United, with a -16 goal differential.
Will LA bounce back from their “crisis?”
After the match Saturday, Corner of the Galaxy reported that manager Sigi Schmid held a closed door meeting with the team. The message he delivered was simple, the players jobs for next season are on the line in the remaining six matches. While that may inspire the team to step up and at least play with some pride, the article ends by suggesting that the changes the Galaxy have undergone this season may not be fixed by a team meeting.
The one bright spot for the Galaxy this year is midfielder Romain Alessandrini who leads the team in both goals and assists. The French designated player essentially is the team’s offense. He can provide a creative spark off of the wing as well as score and set up his teammates. Alessandrini did not start because of yellow card accumulation on Saturday so he is well rested and LA will need him to be at his best to have a chance at scoring against Atlanta. The Five Stripes will have to figure out how to stop him from being a factor in the game or else face being at the mercy of Gyasi Zardes’ frozen ham of a first touch to keep LA out of the net.
How will Tata handle rotation, if at all?
By now it seems clear that after watching players like Lionel Messi play 60 games a year, Tata Martino does not fall into the camp of MLS managers who think their players need to be kept on the bench lest their brittle appendages fall off of their fragile bodies.
That said, something to watch in the game will be whether or not he adjusts his lineup or substitution strategy. Anton Walkes certainly seemed completely exhausted and needed to be subbed out and might be due for a break. While Tyrone Mears doesn’t offer the same qualities going forward as the loanee from Tottenham, he does have chemistry with the other players in the backline and is actually a right back. Greg Garza may also start the game on the bench having suffered his second injury of the season against New England. Making two changes to the backline after the lineup against Orlando led to the defense leaking three goals at home may not be ideal, but if Tata can keep the center back pairing of Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Michael Parkhurst together, things should be much more cohesive in the back.
All this means that Tata will have some tough choices to make against LA - he could rest Josef Martinez and risk icing his extremely hot form or sit Miguel Almiron or any of his other attackers and breakup the best attacking play the team has displayed all season. In the end, these are difficult if not impossible decisions for the manager to make.
Will LA take a page from Orlando’s playbook?
The match against Orlando City may show MLS teams how to crack Atlanta’s defense at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Sure, OCSC scored two goals because players were beat at the back post and that really can’t happen, but for all the talk that the wide field in Atlanta opens up spaces for the Five Stripes, the same was true for Orlando. As Matt Doyle noted, Dillon Powers played the deep lying playmaker role allowing Yoshi Yotun to push forward and create some chances.
Of course, the flip side to that was that Atlanta had acres of space to counter and did so frequently while showing off how good they are in transition all afternoon. It’s fairly clear that bunkering is a tactic that opposing teams will have trouble getting away with at MBS, so perhaps Sigi Schmid will try his luck with a shootout which worked as well as it possibly could for Orlando.
At the end of the day, regardless of all of these factors, Atlanta should win this game. LA is a terrible team, they just got blown out by a side that didn’t even dress their best players, and the team was just told they would all be out of a job if they don’t turn it around. However, this is the kind of game where lapses in concentration and not playing with enough intensity can turn an expected three points into a disappointing result.