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Prekrap: Atlanta United vs. LAFC

Wings are on the menu again for the Five Stripes

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Like I said last week in the Prekrap, Atlanta will get an own goal in the first five minutes, LGP will get a second yellow after less than 40 minutes, and the King Peaches will put together a stellar defensive performance to seal the win. I said that, go ahead and look. Despite being down a man, Atlanta actually looked fairly comfortable against an inept Minnesota attack. As Chris McCann told reporters in practice this week, “The amount of balls they put into the box, it became a bit desperate. They were hoping for any sort of nick or hit off the ball to go into the net. It ended up being pretty disrespectful. It was pretty comfortable in the end.” I’ll be right again this week no doubt.

Anyway, onto the Prekrap...

On a wing and a prayer

Last weekend LAFC became the best expansion team in MLS history to give up a three goal lead and lose a game. Before Zlatan wiped them off the map, LAFC was the biggest story in MLS in 2018 for what they were doing on the field. Ezequel Barco may have gotten a lot of attention for his huge transfer fee, but out West the thousands of owners of LAFC were putting together what has been, so far, a decent club. Prior to the loss, LA had beaten a very injured and still struggling Seattle Sounders team and absolutely ripped apart a young, still gelling, RSL side playing Demar Phillips at left back.

Still, wins are wins and taking points on the road in MLS is nothing to scoff at, especially to the tune of 5-1. Going into this week LA will have to rely on their veteran players and manager to wipe away the massive capitulation in Carson last weekend. With a trip to Atlanta and (BINGO square crossed off) its tremendous home support, the right mindset will be critical for the team Saturday.

In addition, the team will need to find some magic from Carlos Vela who has shown he has plenty of tricks up his sleeve (sorry) so far this year. One question about LAFC was - will Carlos Vela be motivated to play in MLS? Three goals and three assists in three games - including this golazo - should help answer that:

But LAFC is more than just a Mexican National Team icon trying to show he should be included for El Tri in Russia this summer. Our graphics expert TiotalFootball created this handy image to get an idea of LAFC’s average position on the field.

So that’s a limited sample size but it does show something interesting about two of the team’s most important players in the attack - Benny Feilhaber is playing as more of a deep-lying playmaker and Carlos Vela is closer to a no. 10 or second forward. Play will go through them with Feilhaber either trying to spray the ball out to the wings or set up Vela to go at goal himself or try to find another attacker like Marco Urena or 20 year-old hot shot South American DP Diego Rossi. LAFC is a strong team generally built around counterattacking. Their wing play has been excellent this year with the fast and crafty Latif Blessing on the right playing opposite Rossi making runs to stretch defenders or cut in from the outside. The width at MBS will be as much of an asset to Atlanta as the visitors this week and the Five Stripes’ defenders will have to be able to shut down the wings to get three points Saturday.

Defensively, LAFC has been - well, let’s say it’s a bit too early to tell. Against the Sounders, they kept a clean sheet, but Seattle was without Nicolas Lodeiro. In Sandy, Utah, LA gave up an early goal but once they figured out they could just run past RSL it was all over. Last week the team struggled to contain Zlatan but showed their defensive deficiencies giving up goals to Chris Pontius and Sebastian Lletget. Walker Zimmerman should help the backline, though if he plays it will be his first start along side Laurent Ciman - a player with something of a reputation for being a card magnet. Elsewhere, at right back Steven Beitashour and left back Joao Moutinho represent something of a journeyman veteran and rookie in his first professional season respectively. In short, Atlanta should have their chances against LA.

Backline concerns for the Five Stripes

Stop me if you’ve heard this - Atlanta’s defensive depth could be an issue this weekend. Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez is suspended, Franco Escobar is injured, and Greg Garza has been held out of practice all week. Luckily, Jeff Larentowicz’s troublesome looking injury hasn’t stopped him from training so at least one crucial defensive piece will be available. That leaves a backline - in a 3-5-2 - with some combination of Someone - Chris McCann, Michael Parkhurst, Someone, and Julian Gressel. Martino has some options as far as slotting in Sal Zizzo, Jeff Larentowicz, or Miles Robinson at center back and possibly starting Mikey Ambrose or Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu at left wingback. The results with Larentowicz out of central midfield haven’t been great and hopefully Martino keeps him in the middle of the pitch where he is at his best.

With Atlanta potentially missing Greg Garza this weekend, whoever fills in at left back will have their work cut out for them covering Latif Blessing. Add to it that with two usual starters out, the backline will again be trying to gel and a clean sheet seems unlikely with the front four of LAFC. That said, it isn’t like Atlanta should get shut out in this game either. LA may be playing a new center back pairing, and while Feilhaber is playing deeper, he isn’t exactly known for his defense. Joining him in central midfield could be Eduard Atuesta at no. 6 starting for Mark-Anthony Kaye and two new starters in defensive positions could be trouble for the visitors.

In any case, this should be a fairly fun and open game. Atlanta’s defenders will have their hands full covering the LAFC front six. The visitors aren’t built to bunker so should be looking to absorb pressure while also looking to break on the counter. With Atlanta able to score a mathematically improbably number of goals at home and the ability of LA to counter, a big scoreline could be in the works this weekend.

If there is another edge that Atlanta has, it is that Tata Martino has had success against Bob Bradley. Though that was before the American set off for Egypt, Norway, France, and Wales.

El arbitro

Finally, both teams will be lining up against referee Ted Unkel this week: