At this point in the season Atlanta United has been impressive. Their 8 game unbeaten streak shows how resilient and tough the Five Stripes can be. They bounced back from an ugly opening match loss and, with a few bumps in the road, have managed to find themselves leading in the Supporters Shield race. That said, as good as winning is and as dominant at times Atlanta has been, the team has only had one test with a club with similar qualities as the Five Stripes. Of course, Atlanta and NYCFC would draw 2-2 but, United will only have themselves to blame for not putting away a 2-1 lead.
It doesn't pay to look ahead, but with Sporting Kansas City being followed by a match in Orlando and another hosting the New York Red Bulls, the next three games will tell us how serious Atlanta United is in their bid to win MLS Cup and more in 2018.
Anyway, onto the Prekrap...
You’re a Wizard Peter
SKC has been something of a surprise in 2018. After failing to secure a first round bye in the Western Conference and getting bounced from the playoffs in the last four years, the team cleaned house in 2018. Kansas City said goodbye to both Benny Feilhaber and Dom Dwyer at the start of the season. In turn, the club added Johnny Russell from Derby County, Chilean attacker Felipe Gutierrez, and Yohan Croizet - who hasn’t quite lived up to expectations despite being brought in from Belgian juggernauts KV Mechelen. Gutierrez seems set to miss the game after a hip injury suffered last month, but Johnny Russell has been a surprise for SKC this season with five goals and two assists in 10 games.
What has been surprising about Sporting this season is that Peter Vermes decided to re-vamp the roster and try to beat opponents by scoring more goals than them. It has worked will so far with 21 goals scored and just 12 let in. The team is a major departure from the side that defended relentlessly and pressed their opponents into the dirt at the expense of the attack. Through 10 games, SKC already has more than half the number of goals they had in 2017. They look to possess the ball, while still pressing in defense, but are much more willing to pass and probe opponents this year.
The team could be a handful for Atlanta as they don’t seem to have a weakness on their roster, though striker is still a concern. However, this is Peter Vermes and the man loves to rotate his squad midweek, especially on the road and especially against a non-conference opponent. Sporting will be on a bye week Saturday, so his belief that games played on half the normal rest are only worth half the normal points may be overcome by the looming week off. A SKC ‘B’ team could also throw the game plan out the window and that team from last year that tried to beat everyone 0-0 could make a return tomorrow.
A streak on the line
In what seems like it should be a fairly even game with both teams looking to both press and possess the ball, Atlanta will need to - well, decide who they are in 2018. The team has been an exciting countering team some games while it could possess the ball and break down bunkering opponents in others. Last week Atlanta made the most of its possession against Chicago in the second half. Sporting should be more effective at pressing and their deeper talent pool compared to the Fire will also help them to no break down as easily.
At this point, on short rest with three huge games coming up, it seems unlikely that Tata Martino will revert back to the 3-5-2. Last year, Tata also showed that he preferred the same starting 11, when healthy, in midweek games throughout the busy final few weeks of Atlanta’s season. If Atlanta decides to stick with the 3-5-2, the team will need to mind the wings when SKC has the ball and even more so when countering. Atlanta United is neither of these teams, but both Vancouver and the Colorado Rapids tried to play a three back formation in Kansas City and were absolutely destroyed by SKC.
In the attack, Sporting will make it difficult to move the ball through midfield and Atlanta may show that they are still missing either the tactical ability or personnel needed to make their possession effective. In addition, Vermes has in the past marked his opponents’ best player out of the game - the problem he will have is deciding if that means Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, or Ezequiel Barco. If Almiron has difficulty finding rhythm, another one of Atlanta’s attackers will need to step up to help unlock the SKC defense. Still, Atlanta United has scored at least two goals in all of the five games played at MBS this year. The team will need to find a way to match or better that total to come away with three points this week.
Judging this BBQ will be...
Apparently harder to find than I thought this week.