Atlanta United will go into Foxboro, Massachusetts riding a seven game unbeaten streak. In that time, the team has allowed five goals, kept five cleansheets, and beat their opponents this weekend 7-0 at home. The Five Stripes have also shown that they can get results even while needing to make changes to the lineup. On Wednesday, the team played five players either off the bench or in their second choice position. It didn’t matter, the team broke down the Philadelphia Union and when their opponents tried to open the game up they ran through their lines with impunity securing a 3-0 victory.
Almost as impressive as the 22 goals that Atlanta United scored in the last six games is the 16 that New England gave up in their last six. Their game Wednesday night against Orlando was the second worst loss they had this season after the 7-0 smashing they were handed in Atlanta. The game started badly for the Revs with Designated Player Xavier Kouassi deciding that he didn’t want to have to play against Atlanta on Saturday and getting a red card in the 11th minute, besting the 16 minutes it took him to see red against United.
From there Orlando spent the night taking apart the 10 New England players still on the field. The one bright spot for them was a Lee Nguyen free kick that found the goal before half-time. When all was said and done, OCSC came away with a 6-1 win. Sure, Jay Heaps may have failed to keep up with a changing league, but he clearly wasn’t the only problem in New England.
Anyway, here’s what to watch for...
OK, Tata might have good reason to rotate this time
So far Tata Martino has only changed his roster due to injuries or suspension, with the exception of Michael Parkhurst who rested on Wednesday. The past six games were exceptional though. They were all at home and Atlanta hadn’t clinched their place in the playoffs. While the team obviously doesn’t want to drop points, and Martino wants every single one he can get, this game could be a good candidate for one that usual starters get rest in.
Jeff Larentowicz has played a lot of soccer for a 34 year-old and Tata just rested the 33 year-old Parkhurst, so Larry could be due for a break from inspiring bloggers to get tattoos of him. The turf in New England is notoriously bad and at some point Josef Martinez, Tito Villalba, and Yamil Asad are going to run out of gas. No doubt with Atlanta playing Minnesota on Tuesday, Tata could decide to prioritize the home game over an away match this weekend.
This along with the fact that Orlando City just put up six goals against New England fielding a backline of second rate scrubs, as opposed to their usual lineup of first rate scrubs, and Atlanta can probably afford to put out more of a ‘B’ team.
New England is looking for something positive
With Toronto FC backing into the Supporters’ Shield title, NYCFC failing to regain their early season dominant form, and Chicago suddenly remembering how to score goals, Atlanta United has a lot to play for as it sits in third place. On the other side, it might be easy to write of New England as hopeless failures sinking into the abyss of a lost season, but they too have a stake in the result of the game. No doubt interim coach Tom Sohen wants to make the most of his chance at the helm of the team and a win against Atlanta United would be something to point to as a highlight of his season.
As for the players, they need to show that they still belong on the team and have something to offer the squad next season. Coming back from an embarrassing loss to Orlando and getting revenge on Atlanta for the blowout in the Benz a few weeks ago might help players keep a spot on the roster for next year.
So, how might the team play if Atlanta rotates?
With rotation a definite possibility, it will be interesting to see how the team lines up and finds chemistry. If Tata rotates his squad, it is doubtful that every star player would be rested for the match. That said, sitting key pieces makes it easier for opposing defenses to key in on players that start. Tito Villalba had a great game against Philadelphia with crucial passes and flairs of creativity, but he might be less effective starting without Josef or Yamil especially with Miguel Almiron missing the game.
New England could also exploit the unfamiliarity Atlanta players may have with each other. At the Philadelphia Union last month, poor defensive communication allowed goals that should have been prevented. The Revs are quite threatening going forward with several dangerous attacking players. Whether a defense lacking chemistry lets the creativity of Lee Nguyen create scoring chances or has lapses in concentration allowing a Kei Kamara goal on a corner, rotation could give New England more of a chance to exploit mistakes from Atlanta.
All that said, the Revs are still an unbalanced team with a weirdly assembled roster and can’t quite get the attacking players and defenders on the same page. They have allowed the most goals in the Eastern Conference and changing managers doesn’t seem to have given them much of a bump in terms of defensive cohesion or any better idea of how to work the half dozen starting caliber forwards into the team.
At the end of the day, if the Five Stripes can keep mistakes to a minimum and exploit the weak Revolution defense, the could come out with a point or three even if Tata heavily rotates the squad.