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Five thoughts on Atlanta United’s impressive road win over Crew SC

It almost felt nostalgic, like we watched last year’s team.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

This was Atlanta United’s most impressive win of the season

Everything was going against Atlanta United coming into Wednesday’s clash with Eastern Conference contenders Columbus Crew Wednesday night. The team had every reason to pack it in with a negative, cynical type of performance to try to grind out a valuable road point.

Instead, we got the opposite. Somehow, the Five Stripes summoned enough energy — despite a grueling battle against NYCFC — to overwhelm Columbus in its own ground. And it wasn’t just the players who were aggresive and proactive in preparation for the match. With only two days of training between the games, Tata Martino changed the shape of the team. Veteran midfielder Jeff Larentowicz told Fox Sports South’s Kevin Egan and Jason Longshore after the match that the move gave the team a big lift:

“We went to two of the more difficult places in the league in one week — four days apart — I thought the team did really well tonight. I think some of the best deneding you can do is with the ball. I thought tonight with the switch we had more of the ball and we felt more comfortable. That was what was stressed after the New York game in training. Get on the ball and enjoy it a bit. From the outset, we got on the ball and moved it. It gets you into the game and it limits how much they can attack.”

Tata’s Martino’s change to a 4-2-3-1 was a pleasant surprise

Many of us, from writers to readers to other fans, have been clamoring for Atlanta United to change something to get the team playing in a more attractive style. Whether it had to do with a formation change, a personnel swap or some other adjustment, it seemed clear that something needed to be done to give the team a lift. In the end, it was a change back to the trusted 4-2-3-1 of last season that had Atlanta United playing in a much more aggressive manner — one much more reminiscent of the club’s debut season. Funnily enough, Martino ran out the same exact starting XI that he used against NYCFC at the weekend, but the change in shape created different responsibilities for players that had them pushed much higher up the field. It paid off in a big way, and it was fun to watch.

Barco looked assertive on the left wing

One of the byproducts of the change in shape is forcing one of Miguel Almiron or Ezequiel Barco to the wing. Barco looked comfortable and confident in that position last week in the U.S. Open Cup against the Charleston Battery, and likewise, he carried that form into the match against the Crew Wednesday night. Barco was able to find gaps between the Crew’s defense and attack, and once he received the ball and turned, Barco was aggressive in his runs. He wasn’t perfect, but this is a role that offers Barco very simple intstruction and can hopefully allow his instincts to take over on the field.

Things were not perfect in the 4-2-3-1

As fun as it was to watch “the old Atlanta United” (meaning one that presses and takes risks) there’s no doubt that it was far from perfect. Obviously, the team was positioned in a way that left a lot of space behind the back line. When you play in this manner, you’re always going to be vulnerable to the counter attack and will need to rely on sound positioning and execution from defenders. But at times, the positioning was helter skelter and it left gaps available for Columbus to exploit.

[Whispers] This team has another level

Maybe the most exciting aspect of Wednesday night’s win was that we saw a glimpse of what this team can be when it’s at it’s best. We didn’t actually see the team at it’s best tonight, but we saw glimpses of what it’s capable of. Playing in a more proactive style, when this team gets all of Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco and Tito Villalba in the lineup... oh my gosh y’all it’s gonna be nuts. We saw the strengths of these players in bits and fragments throughout the night. Josef scored a goal, Barco had some moments, Miguel created some opportunities on the half turn and Villalba scored a late goal after coming on as a sub to seal it. Thinking about all these players fit and healthy and in the lineup all at once? Watch out.