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Prekrap: Atlanta United vs. Montreal Impact

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A possibly full strength Atlanta takes on a depleted Impact

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps at Atlanta United FC John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

After taming Zlatan and playing their best away match in team history according to Tata Martino, Atlanta United returns home to face the Montreal Ignacio Piattis Impact. For their part, Atlanta’s opponent this weekend are coming off of an... MLS worthy performance at home against LAFC. Montreal took a 2-1 lead thanks to an early pair of goals by Piatti and a rocket by former Montrealian Laurent Ciman. Then in the 31st minute, center back Victor Cabrera was shown a red card but the Impact managed another goal as Piatti completed his hat trick.

Given the game state it was an impressive effort, however it would be wasted as LAFC came storming back scoring four goals after the half. It will be seen if the collective trauma of giving up a two goal lead when all the team had to do was defend and hold off a side without a defensive midfield is going to linger for the Impact this weekend. One thing is certain, Cabrera is their most important defender and missing their starting center back will be a huge loss for the team against Atlanta United.

The Poutine Princes in the land of grits

Montreal finds itself coming to Atlanta on the heels of a difficult loss but their season to this point has been something of a wreck. The Impact sit in 8th place in the East, winning two matches and losing five, with seven games played, scoring merely nine goals and allowing 17. Part of their record is explained by having just two home matches to begin the year, but their atrocious defense has also led them to what certainly looks like another season of missing the playoffs north of the border. Montreal’s two wins, oddly, have come against the MLS Cup participants last year - beating an injury depleted Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC while they focused on the Concacaf Champions League.

So far, Montreal has experimented with their lineups as new manager Remi Garde tries to find the best fit for the personnel he has. The result has been disjointed performances, a lot of goals allowed and few scored. The defense has been particularly bad with 17 goals let in, and missing Cabrera will be a huge loss for the team as they prepare to face Atlanta.

On top of the defensive woes, the attack has sputtered as well though there have been some noteworthy individual performances. New addition Jeisson Vargas has played well with three goals on the season playing as the most advanced forward for the Impact. The 20 year-old Chilean has paired with Ignacio Piatti at times in a two forward formation and the duo seems to have a good connection in attack. However, prior to his hat trick Piatti just had one goal with three assists on the year, matching half of his output from last season. A challenge has been getting the pair in positions where they can be effective against opposing defenses. The central midfield pairing of Saphir Taider and Samuel Piette have struggled to help Montreal build through possession and have also failed to effectively shield the beleaguered backline.

Without the ability to build possession, the problem becomes that Montreal seems to be left with no choice but to absorb pressure and counter. They certianly have the attacking pieces to be able to do that, but with a defense that can’t absorb the pressure, they simply leak goals and hit long hopeful balls to Vargas and Piatti. At times the pair is able to do something good, but the team still seems like it is a few pieces away from building a competitive squad in MLS. That said, if they can somehow manage to hold on against Atlanta’s attacks and find their talented South American forwards with space behind the Five Stripes’ defense they could still eek out a favorable result on Saturday.

Building off of a strong performance

Following their dominant performance on the West Coast, this should be another weekend that Atlanta Untied is able to press their opponents effectively and find chances against a deficient backline. However, the team may be looking to shift formation and go back to a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 with Tito Villalba back in practice this week and Franco Escobar returning from injury. Of course, this will beg the question, does Julian Gressel start for the Five Stripes and if so where? Seemingly, he could be asked to play right back or right wing. However, starting him in that role will push either Villalba or Escobar to the bench. The formation also leaves Chris McCann on the bench unless he starts at left back in place of Greg Garza. This isn’t an awful problem to have and the added depth will give Tata Martino more options late in games as the manager has shown he isn’t particularly trusting of his bench options so far this year.

While shifting back to a formation that allowed four goals to begin the year might seem like it is tempting disaster, but the first match of the season also saw Atlanta start Jeff Larentowicz at center back rather than central midfield. The 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 was an immensely successful formation for Atlanta last year. The team kept five clean sheets with the formation when they were at full strength, or at least not completely depleted by injury and international call-ups, at MBS last season. In addition, while Julian Gressel has been excellent as a right wingback for Atlanta this year, Tito Villalba has been much more effective when allowed to play right wing with Josef Martinez as the lone striker. A change in tactics may see him regain his 13 goal/11 assist form from last season.

Another promising sign for an Atlanta newcomer is how well Darlington Nagbe has played for the Five Stripes this season:

As the team showed against LAFC and DC United, Atlanta can absolutely demolish teams that have weak central midfields and questionable defenses. Nagbe and Barco will again look to put Martinez and Almiron through on goal with Barco also looking to get into dangerous positions to find shooting opportunities himself.

With Atlanta dominating at home, allowing just one goal a game, and Franco Escobar back to regular training this week, the team should be set up for another dominant performance. Montreal will be missing their most important defender with Cabrera suspended. Given the team’s struggles defensively, the Five Stripes should be able to have plenty of chances against the Impact. That said, Atlanta has shown that at times they can switch off against lesser opponents and they will need to be mentally sharp to stop Piatti and Vargas from flipping the script on Saturday.

I get no refspect

Each team will line up against Hilario Grajeda who seems to let the big boys play as his stats show.