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Five Thoughts: Atlanta United hits cruise control in win over Rapids

Colorado never stood a chance in this one.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

What did we really learn here?

If you’re a longtime reader of this column, or at least going back to last season, you will know that it used to be called “What We Learned.” Thank God we changed the name, because after a game like Atlanta United’s 3-0 win over a (with all due respect) wretched Colorado Rapids team Saturday, I’m not sure what we learned. Atlanta, quite simply, took care of business as they expected to do with ruthless efficiency. Outside of some personnel decisions, nothing we saw from the team surprised us Saturday, and that’s a good thing.

Darlington Nagbe didn’t look like a player who’d missed the 10 previous games

One of the few surprises Saturday happened an hour before the game kicked off when the starting lineup released. Despite having missed the last 10 games, the longest injured spell of his career, Darlington Nagbe was thrust straight back into the starting. Lineup. Many have wondered how a Tata Martino XI might look with both Nagbe and Remedi in it, and Saturday gave us a sample. Many have clamored for Jeff Larentowicz to be the player to make way for Nagbe, but Martino is fiercely loyal/dependent on the 34-year old MLS veteran (59 starts in Martino’s 63 league matches). Instead, it was Ezequiel Barco who made way, along with the 4-2-3-1 formation in a return to the 3-5-2. You can be sure there are many more variations of an XI that includes Nagbe and Remedi, but now we know one of them.

This was the definition of a “training ground exercise”

Things got ugly quick for Colorado, and by halftime, it was evident that Atlanta could really run up the score. But Martino has spoken in the past about Atlanta’s 7-0 win over New England last season and said he didn’t like that feeling (and didn’t intend for that game to get as out of hand as it did). Thus, the second half of a similar type of gameSaturday played out much differently. Atlanta, smartly, held possession for spells and sat comfortably in a defensive block for long portions also. For a team playing the first of three games in an eight-day span, it’s a wise strategic move. Doing anything more than what was needed to comfortably secure victory here would be a fool’s errand.

For many reasons, Atlanta is a historically great road team

Atlanta’s win Saturday was it’s ninth on the road this season, tying the 2012 San Jose Earthquakes and the 2011 Seattle Sounders for most road wins in a season since the league expanded its regular season to 34 games. (D.C. United had 10 in 1997 and 1998, and had 13 in 1999). One more road win would set Atlanta apart in the modern MLS era, and, oh look, Atlanta plays the worst team in the league on the road in 3 days—yes, worse than Colorado. So, yeah. What’s the difference between this year and last year? Miguel Almiron:

“I think our team is tighter this year. The players on the bench have done a really nice job as well and that makes us feel more united on the field. We have to keep it up for the rest of the season.”

Source: ATLUTD Communications

Julian Gressel delivers elite service from wide areas

With two more assists Saturday, Julian Gressel now has 21 assists since he’s been in the league, making him one of only 10 players with 20 or more in that time period. The more impressive aspect of Gressel’s assists is that I’d venture to guess a vast majority of them are the primary assists (MLS records do not distinguish or keep track of primary vs. secondary/hockey assists). This is obviously due to the service Gressel offers from the right flank, and I hesitate to use the word “cross.” Cross is a bad word and it’s still a very inefficient way to try to score, but Gressel’s passes from wide are not simply hit-and-hope crosses. They are calculated, they are intelligent, and they are delivered with touch that makes them receotive for the goal scorers. Gressel simply has a shrewd ability to deliver quality, dangerous passes from this area of the field, and it’s a huge weapon. Without it, I’m not so sure the 3-5-2 is a very effective shape for Atlanta.