So far Atlanta United has had mixed results playing against their best opponents. They absolutely trounced LAFC, gave up a late lead and earned a draw with NYCFC, got Geiger’d against Sporting KC, and exposed Orlando City as a team that is lucky that Atlanta United seems to struggle with finishing. All told that’s a 2-1-1 record against teams that matter in MLS. This weekend will be another test for the Five Stripes with the New York Red Bulls coming to town. A win in this game would go a long way in showing that the team deserves to be in first place in the East and can push for holding the Supporter’s Shield at the end of the season. A draw or a loss will leave the team with more questions as it enters what might be an uncertain period as the transfer window opens.
Anyway, here’s the Prekrap...
The New York Press Bulls
Well you already have a good idea of what to expect from the Red Bulls from Sam’s article earlier this week and Aaron Bauer going on MOTS, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t do takes masked as analysis here anyway. In general, New York is a strong team and might have the most cohesive playing style in MLS no matter who they start. They have a deep bench and can afford to rotate players fairly often because their main strategy in the league is to press and then hope that the ball finds its way to the feet of Bradley Wright-Phillips or whoever may be starting at striker. Outside of an unlucky loss to the Chicago Fire, it has worked.
New York doesn’t necessarily want the ball, but they sure don’t want their opponents to have it. Last year Jesse Marsch experimented with a number of different playing styles and formations but could never quite get the 4-2-2-2 to work as New York just couldn’t get a rhythm as a possession oriented team. As a result, he changed things up and the club isn’t that interested in possession and much more prefers to make the game difficult for the opposition by stopping teams from having time on the ball and clogging up passing lanes.
This will make things really difficult for Atlanta United to try and play a possession based approach. The Red Bulls will look to catch Atlanta pushed too far forward and then spring on transition. It will be a game where Greg Garza and whoever is playing on the right side of the defense, be it Sal Zizzo, Franco Escobar, or Julian Gressel, will need to always be aware of their responsibility to track back should Atlanta be dispossessed.
All of that said, New York may be without a starter in a position they haven’t had to go to the bench for in over half a decade. Reports on Friday indicated that Luis Robles may miss the game due to a minor injury. Robles has long been an underrated keeper and has not missed a match for the club since 2012. Should he miss the match, Ryan Meara would most likely step in for the Red Bulls.
What, a press? Atlanta United worry?
Tata Martino will have some interesting choices of his own in this game and the lineup that he puts out will probably tell us what he’s thinking. The main choice is probably: does Atlanta decide to try and break the New York press or play more direct? On the one hand, the Five Stripes added Ezequiel Barco and Darlington Nagbe to help create more effective possession and pass their way to victory. A 4-3-3 set up would allow Atlanta to have a strong base to build attacks from while also giving the outside defenders the opportunity to go forward and join the attack. Between them and Miguel Almirion’s new proclivity to go at goal and Josef Martinez making himself difficult to cover for opposing defenses, a possession based approach may not be a bad idea against New York.
On the other hand, it could be a terrible plan with New York taking the ball off of Atlanta near their own goal and creating a nightmare for Brad Guzan. With that possibly being the case, Tata may decide to go more direct. Obviously he can play that way with a 4-3-3, but a 3-5-2 with both Josef Martinez and Barco up top offers two targets up front. It would also enable Julian Gressel to send crosses and cutbacks though the box and leave three center backs in defense to cover NYRB in transition.
While Atlanta will most likely have a difficult time breaking the press, one thing they can do to disrupt New York is score early. Of course they want to score, but forcing New York to chase the game would take the Red Bulls out of their game plan. If New York has a weakness it is an over reliance on the press and the fact that it seems to be the one idea that they have tactically. If Atlanta takes the lead, the Red Bulls wouldn’t be able to just press relentlessly and try to break in transition, they would actually have to play soccer, keep possession, and try to break down what has been a great defense at home this season.
However the match plays out, it will say a lot about Atlanta United as the team tries to bounce back at home after a painful, and perhaps undeserved, loss at home a week and a half ago.
The Geiger strikes back...
After spending the last two weeks discussing the finer points of refereeing thanks to Mark Geiger disallowing a goal that seemingly should have counted, Tata Martino will again face off against the illustrious ref. This time he will be on VAR duty watching replays to ensure that the officials get it right. Gotta get the calls right. If you still think VAR is a good idea just know that when a video call is made the person making the call could very well be... Mark Geiger.
REF: CHRISTOPHER PENSO
AR1: CAMERON BLANCHARD
AR2: BRIAN POESCHEL
4TH: FOTIS BAZAKOS
VAR: MARK GEIGER