Atlanta United managed a draw in their last match against NYCFC. On the one hand, the match felt like something that slipped away from Atlanta with New York scoring a late goal and Tata Martino not liking the options on his bench to try to go for a game winner and using just one substitution. On the other, it seems like perhaps NYCFC was fortunate to get the result needing a penalty and absolute golazo to come away with a point. Given that, a draw is perhaps a fair result after all. Atlanta will be on the road heading to Carson, California to take on the Los Angeles Galaxy in the teams first of, mercifully, two trips to the West Coast this season. While Atlanta has three points in its two road matches if the team wants to win the supporters shield it will need to win away from home and the game in LA gives the team a good opportunity to do just that.
Anyway, onto the Prekrap...
West (er, South?) LA Fade Away
The LA Galaxy is a team made up of fringe Mexican National Team players, an aging megastar, a Ligue 1 castoff, a striker who hasn’t matched Gyasi Zardes’ production in 2018, Perry Kitchen, a guy named Rolf (yep, Rolf, not Rolfael - just Rolf), I’m Ashley Cole, some other defenders, and an average goalkeeper. The team is also coached by Sigi Schmid, someone who was fired from the currently winless Seattle Sounders. Somehow this man is responsible for managing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player who did not like being led by Pep Guardiola.
That said, LA also features two of the best strikers in MLS, one of the best wingers in the league in Romain Alessandrini, a promising American wide player in Sebastian Lletget, the sometimes great but mostly injured-disappointment Giovani Dos Santos, and are much better in central midfield with Jonathan Dos Santos and Perry Kitchen. Their defense is awful though and Atlanta put four goals past David Bingham last year at Bobby Dodd so there should be plenty of chances in the match.
In sum, LA is a team who can really provide some attacking punch but are a complete shambles in defense. The team has three wins in six games and is second in the Western Conference, but at this point in the season in that conference the table is a liar. The three wins for LA have been against Portland in Giovanni Savarese’s first game as manager, against an LAFC side that fell asleep and got Zlatan, and away to Chicago who is playing Bastian Schweinsteiger as sweeper because Veljko Paunovic is a good coach whose decision to get rid of David Accam and lose any ability the team had to stretch a defense has really paid off as they sit in 10th place.
Still, the team will be able to trouble Atlanta United going forward. Zlatan’s acrobatic finishing may get the headlines and reddit upvotes, but the 6-5 forward is a giant of a man and Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez, and anyone else on the Five Stripes for that matter, will have difficulty matching up with him physically - especially on set pieces.
Tactically it seems like LA is still working out how to best work Zlatan into the lineup. In his second game of the season he came off the bench and was largely ineffective against Sporting Kansas City. Last weekend, with Giovani Dos Santos injured, the team set up in a 4-4-2 away to Chicago and struggled to find rhythm completing just three of 23 crosses and only managing two key passes, luckily Zlatan scored and they still won. Some of that is due to Chicago playing a 5-3-1 and being effective at limiting chances from LA. Atlanta obviously won’t sit back like the Fire did so a more open game should be interesting to watch between these two teams.
An obvious key to Atlanta finding a win on the road will be the play of Josef Martinez. The Five Stripes talisman was a few beats off last weekend against NYCFC and he has generally not been as effective on the road as at home. The Pigeons definitely did a lot to frustrate him and playing with an injury couldn’t have helped Martinez. Still, he was all over the field, making runs to try to find space or open it for his teammates and get into threatening positions. One part of Josef’s game that perhaps backfired last weekend was his offside positioning. Many strikers will intentionally play offside in order to make it difficult for defenders to track their position. Thomas Muller has essentially made a career out of doing this, however last weekend Josef mistimed much of his play offside, thanks to NYCFC pushing the defenders upfield after Josef made runs in behind the defense, and it clearly cost the team on the disallowed goal from Nagbe.
All that said, the Galaxy have a hugely weak defense, even with the addition of Perry Kitchen to shield the backline. Atlanta should have plenty of chances against a defense anchored by Daniel Steres and if they are to take all three points, Josef will need to find the timing that was missing last weekend. LA won’t be able to press and push as high of a line as NYCFC did and won’t be as effective at keeping the ball away from him simply because they aren’t as talented. Missing Tito Villalba’s ability to stretch the defense also hurt Atlanta and with him seeming to not make the trip with the team out West, the team will face a similar issue as there isn’t a replacement on the roster that can match his speed.
Luckily, Atlanta is a side that is filled with talented players and the team might have a new face in the starting 11 as Ezequiel Barco could be making his first start. It is difficult to say what his role on the team will be as he seemed fairly free to roam the field last week in his debut. Tata Martino hasn’t been forthcoming with details and it’s entirely possible that rather than speaking about his position, Barco’s skills will determine his role. He and Miguel Almiron should have plenty of opportunity to switch between the middle and left side of the pitch and the pair should exchange roles on the field frequently.
Barco’s ability with close ball control and dribbling should enable Almiron to find space to make runs where he can use his ability to run through the defense with the ball at his feet all the more effectively. In recent weeks, going back to the Minnesota game when both sides were at full strength, Atlanta has had some difficulty in building possession and relied more on breaking in transition. It was obviously effective, but the Five Stripes are capable of being a dynamic, fluid attacking team that circulates the ball and passes teams to death. It is also a style of play that will enable Josef Martinez to conserve his energy and not make lung-busing runs down the field while the team breaks and let him do what he does best - make dangerous runs into the box while Atlanta creates chances through possession. Whether or not the team is able, or tries, to do that is clearly another matter.
This aggression will not stand, man.
Both teams will line up against *sigh* Baldomero Toldeo...