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Five thoughts: Atlanta United rebounds with strong win over Union

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Good to get that bad taste out of the mouth.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Philadelphia Union Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Scoreless halves can be very fun

We’ve all sat through incredibly drab scoreless halves. They can quite literally be sleep inducing. Often, they come about because teams aren’t all that interested in penetrating the opponent and playing on the edge of danger. Saturday’s first half between Atlanta United and the Philadelphia Union was not that. That’s not to say it was technically great. In fact, maybe it was the sloppiness from both teams that made it feel like a goal could be scored in any given moment. Both teams conceded possession—and in turn, a counter attacking opportunity for the opponent—consistently throughout the half. The result? A very open game with 17 combined shots from the two teams.

Ezequiel Barco looks unsure of himself

I hesitate to say he lacks confidence in general, because you can see Barco’s eagerness to make things happen for the Five Stripes. For example, in a long range free kick opportunity in the first half, he took it instead of leaving it to Jeff Larentowicz. I like to see this from Barco, who seems to defer too much to his teammates at times. That said, we saw the negative side of that confidence just minutes later as the 19-year old received the ball with lots of space in the box, and, well, he made a meal of it. He hesitated, chopped, and kept his head down instead of either firing an early shot on goal or finding an open teammate at the far post. Barco will need to improve in these situations, but the raw talent and skill with the ball is clearly there to see.

Julian Gressel is a revelation in central midfield

I will admit, I was one of the writers on this site asking people to excercise caution and patience with Julian Gressel in central midfield. I contend that my reasoning was sound: Gressel hadn’t played the position hardly at all this season and only in fits and starts his rookie year. His first touch has been questionable at times, and a poor touch in central midfield can lead to a goal very quickly. But instead, we’ve seen... perfection? At least it’s as close as you’re going to get relative to MLS. Gressel has been a revelation. Whether it’s drifting into wide areas to deliver whipped crosses, progressing the ball with his feet through the middle, and helping to cover and close down defensively, the German looks like he’s been playing center midfield all his life.

Atlanta United is solid at every position

It’s pretty amazing that Darren Eales, Carlos Bocanegra, Paul McDonough and Co. have assembled a squad with above-average talent at every position in the starting XI in less than 2 years. And there’s depth too. Atlanta is solid even without regular starters like Greg Garza and Darlington Nagbe as they recover from long term injuries. This is in large part down to exquisite recruitment, but it’s also down to players who have stepped up their games like Julian Gressel and Mikey Ambrose. Other veterans like Jeff Larentowicz and Michael Parkhurst are having major success in the twilights of their careers. Overall, Atlanta just doesn’t have obvious weaknesses like it did last season.

Did Atlanta United score its best goal in club history? Best this season?

Tito Villalba’s 76th-minute goal was a thing of beauty. It will obviously win MLS Goal of the Week, but just watch it again...

So, let’s sort this out... is it the best goal in club history? For me, Tito’s goal against Orlando still reigns king. I can reconcile and say this is the best goal the team has scored this season, and it’s the best “team goal” in club history. I suppose this one comes down to what kind of goals you like to see most, so what say you?