Atlanta got the early goal it needed
Atlanta has struggled in recent weeks to capitalize off positive starts, highlighted by last week’s home match against the Portland Timbers. In that match, Atlanta bordered on 80% possession (!!) deep into the first half, but none of it mattered. It was exactly what Portland wanted so long as they were in position to secure at least a point in the match.
Orlando City came into Saturday night’s game with a similar game plan. Interim head coach Bobby Murphy deployed his Orlando CIty side in a very conservative 3-5-2 — similar to Portland — and tried to take advantage of opportunities in transition. The early goal conceded (a trend for Orlando) meant the Purple Lions couldn’t be as negative and cynical as they would’ve liked. The visitors increasingly pushed more numbers forward as the game wore on. It created a match that was enjoyable for the home fans, as Atlanta’s attacking quartet of Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, Tito Villalba and Ezequiel Barco had opportunities to stretch their legs and get in behind Orlando in transition. Orlando had its chances — they actually registered more shots on goal than Atlanta in the first half — but Almiron’s dagger in the first 10 minutes of the second half made further proceedings a formality.
Talent aside, Atlanta United wanted it more
Breaking news: Orlando City is not a group of mentally strong players. This is not a tight -knit unit. Rather, it’s a group of players with above-average talent and below-average commitment and cohesiveness. Orlando is a “team” insomuch as they are a group of 11 players in uniform, with seven more on the bench. That’s about the extent of it. Atlanta fans bore witness to Orlando’s capitulation in the first matchup of the season between these two teams. It was a game highlighted by the infighting from Orlando players and hostility from the crowd.
Saturday wasn’t much different. Orlando players constantly lost out in 50-50 challenges, when a player roamed from a position, no one was there to cover. When Miguel Almiron scored his first goal to double Atlanta’s lead in the second half, heads dropped and there was only going to be one winner.
Tactically, Atlanta was on a different level from Orlando
Without digging into the nitty-gritty of the chalk-boards and heat maps, there’s an easy litmus test I like to use to determine if a team is better tactically than it’s opponent: Did one team look like it was playing with an extra player? That’s how Atlanta looked Saturday night. The Five Stripes seemed to outnumber Orlando all over the pitch, both in wide areas and centrally. (Ok fine, if you wanna talk about the why/how, it’s because Orlando basically conceded the ability to have any sustained possession with its three-man back line.) While it was an impressive display by Atlanta without a doubt, Orlando looked, well, like a team playing under an interim coach. Rudderless. Jeff Larentowicz and Tata Martino acknowledged in their postgame comments that it’s difficult for teams in these situations, and it showed.
Feels good to feel good again in Mercedes-Benz Stadium
It’s been a while, y’all! Coming into Saturday’s match Atlanta had only won one match in Mercedes-Benz Stadium since deateing the Montreal Impact on April 28. That match was against the Philadelphia Union, who had two players sent off only 20 minutes into the match. And regardless of the results, there just hadn’t been a good feeling in MBS lately with the performances from the team.
Saturday was about as good as it gets. A great performance, a big win over an archrival (the first time Atlanta had beaten Orlando at home) and it all happened on a Saturday night so we’re not feeling hangover on a workday. Add to that, the scintillating individual displays from several of the team’s star players ... it was nearly a perfect night.
Miguel Almiron’s engine is not normal
Just know that when Miguel Almiron is tearing down the field on a breakaway — literally running away from defenders — in the 80th minute of a match... that’s not ordinary. There are lots of things we could heap on Almiron as praise, but his willingness to graft and suffer for his teammates sets him apart as a highly-paid, highly talented player in this league. Tata Martino spoke about this after the match:
“Miguel has a commitment to the team, I’m talking about his commitment to winning the ball back, pressing, he’s a player that’s always working. He’s an atypical number 10. Because he gives you everything that a number 10 gives you and he probably dispossesses players like a defensive midfielder. So as a player who always works hard, he’s never absent in a game, even a game where your team isn’t dominating the offensive facet of the game.
This is a league where the biggest figures, from both the public’s recognition and economically, make a big difference compared to the rest. That doesn’t always coincide with the effort. With Miguel, if there’s anything guaranteed it’s the effort.
It’s not easy for a player to put himself in the condition to be able to work as hard as Almiron does. Because as much as you want to try to give effort during a game, you can only give what you have prepared yourself for. Almiron keeps himself in extraordinary shape and prepares in practice at an intensity that allows him to give more than is typical for 90 minutes in the league. It’s important to remember his work ethic and drive when he’s not scoring braces, too. Simply, his commitment to the team is unparalleled.