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Atlanta United preparing for Vancouver’s height, emphasize set piece defending

something to look out for on Saturday.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United enjoyed Sunday’s win against D.C. United, but are moving their focus toward the upcoming weekend and a Vancouver Whitecaps team that won both of its opening two matches. The focus however isn’t directed at a particular player or even opposing tactics. It’s their height, best summed up by Greg Garza.

“It’s crazy, Vancouver’s height. We’re all little guys. We don’t have that much height. I think Brad(Guzan) is the only one that actually has some height.”

This presents an obvious issue for an Atlanta team that already conceded two set piece goals in their 3-1 loss to Vancouver last season.

“Set pieces are always a concern,” said Michael Parkhurst. “We don’t want to give away set pieces if we don’t have to. They’ve added Kei Kamara who’s one of the best aerial players in MLS. It’ll be a challenge.”

There really isn’t a clear strategy to defending set pieces other than to avoid allowing them in the first place as Parkhurst mentioned, and if Atlanta does allow them, to cover their marks as well as they can. The wily veteran Kevin Kratz did give some pointers on trying to defend as a smaller player.

“You try and jump a little bit into the opposing player. You know they’re going to win the header nine out of ten times because of their size, but just don’t let them head the ball without pressure or contact. Jump a little into them, get them off balance, and that helps to get him away from that clear header. For example, Josef(Martinez) is doing a lot of that on the other side.”

Occasionally, he might attempt an advantageous jersey pull or forearm to the back, but he’s cautious of doing it too often.

“With all the cameras and VAR, you have to be careful because they see nearly everything.”

Set piece defending will certainly be key if Atlanta hopes to earn a positive result on Saturday.