Atlanta United is heading to Yankee Stadium to face NYCFC on a two game unbeaten streak. The game comes after Atlanta soundly beat the Philadelphia Union thanks to the mods issuing a ban to Alejandro Bedoya who triggered a solidarity tantrum from Haris Medunjanin. Somehow Philly actually looked better without their starting central midfield pairing and managed to try to play Atlanta in an open game while chasing an equalizer. Finishing was again an issue for the team - but give Andre Blake credit, he made some tremendous stops and kept the game competitive for the Union.
This week Atlanta will try to exercise some demons as the team travels to the Bronx, the site of one of their worst matches last season. With the World Cup upon us, the Five Stripes will actually have an advantage as Jeff Larentowicz, Darlington Nagbe, and Brad Guzan weren’t pressed into duty for the U.S. Men’s National Team and Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez was an obvious snub from the Argentina side that will lose in the final to Germany in Russia. NYCFC will be missing Ronald Matarrita and Rodney Wallace while they try to contain Atlanta United.
Anyway... onto the Prekrap
Pidg-on or Pidg-off
NYCFC is entering a time of flux. Roomers are swirling, as they have been, that their manager Patrick Vieira may be leaving the club to manage OGC Nice. The South of France sounds somewhat more appealing than coaching a soccer team in a baseball stadium while watching managers get the job that he dearly wanted. For his potential farewell match, Vieira will again try to get the best of Atlanta United. So far the teams have a 1-1-1 head to head record with New York recently getting a draw that felt like a loss after Tata Martino made an attacking sub despite having the lead before the Pigeons stole two points in Atlanta earlier this year. Vieira has been one of the best, if not the best, manager in MLS since taking over in New York in 2016 compiling a 39-21-27 record while also having to completely rebuild a team and teach it to play soccer on a laughably small field. Whoever takes over in New York will have a steep learning curve and MLS will be losing a talented manager.
The draw earlier this year was a stinging result and one that has helped NYCFC stick around in the MLS table as they sit in second place with 27 points, just two behind Atlanta United. The team will again look to gain ground on the current Eastern Conference leaders as a win will put them in first place in the conference. New York is where they are in the table because they have turned their team from one with aging European stars and the ageless David Villa to a team with young and in their prime South American Designated Players, the ageless David Villa, a stout defense, and an unnoticed and underrated central midfield (though one that will be missing Yangel Herrera for the rest of the season). Even without Wallace cutting in from the wing as a sub or occasional starter and Mataritta playing left back or left wingback, the team has more than enough to get a result against Atlanta United.
In their most recent match, NYCFC got completely dominated in a 4-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls in the US Open Cup on Wednesday, but don’t let that result fool you. The Pigeons largely rested their starters and the result speaks to that. One thing that may be different in this match for NYCFC is that the team has been playing in a 3-5-2 that they have to mush into a 3-4-1-2 to fit on their itty bitty field in the Bronx. Still it is a wrinkle that has paid off for the team and enabled Vieira to play Ismael Tajouri-Shradi at left wingishback and get another dangerous attacker on the field. Their 3-0 win against Orlando City featured a brace from Tajouri-Shradi as he sits on seven goals this season.
Atlanta United visits NYCFC’s rent controlled apartment
There just isn’t much room in Yankee Stadium. At six point three meters by 11.* meters it is the smallest field in the world and the goals are only four feet wide and two feet tall. It’s barely fair for opposing teams that they have to play in such cramped spaces, the bathroom is even in the kitchen for crying out loud! What I’m saying is that the field is small and this is going to pose a problem for Atlanta United, a team built on finding space, stretching defenses and moving the ball around the field as they probe for their opponent’s weaknesses.
With this in mind, Atlanta can try to make up for the fact that MLS was so eager to get into the New York market again that they’ve let a team play on an embarrassment of a field for three seasons with seemingly no future plans to press the issue for getting a real soccer home for the Pigeons. Last year in the Bronx, NYCFC did a great job of denying space to Atlanta United and an even better job of stopping Atlanta from breaking on transition to create chances. Expect more of the same this weekend.
In order to get a result in the game, Atlanta will need to control possession effectively and breakdown the NYCFC defense. This should be a key difference in the way that the team plays this year as opposed to in their last visit to New York. With the addition of Darlington Nagbe and Ezequiel Barco, the Five Stripes have two players who can pick a pass which should help find Atlanta’s forwards on runs through the box. With Julian Gressel also mastering the cutback this season, Atlanta will have another effective option to get the ball into dangerous areas for the goal scorers. Tito Villalba, who was out injured in the last three matches going back to the game in New England, would be a welcomed returnee for the Five Stripes along with his penchant for long range shots should he be healthy.
One other thing to consider about Yankee Stadium is that the ball seems to end up in weird places all over the pitch. With a field as small as the one in New York, players are also in a more confined space and it just seems like it creates opportunities for random things to happen more often than on actual soccer fields. Since the pitch is so narrow and so short, Atlanta should be prepared to take advantage of the recoveries they get in odd areas and try to exploit New York in the times when they can break in transition unexpectedly.
According to MLB, the umps will be...
REF: ROBERT SIBIGA
AR1: ERIC WEISBROD
AR2: CJ MORGANTE
4TH: SILVIU PETRESCU
VAR: EDVIN JURISEVIC