After Wednesday/Thursday's late night weirdness, the Five Stripes could have been forgiven for returning home and not getting the full 3 points against a more than serviceable Real Salt Lake side. Such did not turn out to be the case.
We have seen the future, and its name is George Bello.
Bello was handed his first career start, becoming (by 1 day) the 8th youngest MLS starter. He joins the likes of Alphonso Davies, Diego Fagundez and the inimitable Freddy Adu in the sub-17 starter club. None of the others did that in front of 72,000 fans though.
Replacing Chris McCann at left back, but playing more as a winger à la Julian Gressel, Bello gave us reason to be very optimistic about things to come. He was effective offensively from the get go, and defensively was receiving clear assistance and direction from Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Eric Remedi throughout the first half. But by the second half his confidence was built up and he was handling attackers with relative ease.
The 4-3-3 that wasn’t
As noted above, Bello played a winger role, so that the announced 4-3-3 was really a 3-4-3. Call it a 3.5-3.5-3. Whichever way you want to look at it, other than the less than successful display Wednesday evening (also a 4-3-3), this was a new formation for the Five Stripes. It was clearly a good tactical choice, and it was well-executed. Tata now has another trick for his expanding bag, and opponents will have that much harder a time figuring Atlanta out.
The wheels on the bus went...right out of here
Virtually the only successful strategy against the Five Stripes this season, and especially at the Benz, has been to frustrate the unrelenting press by bunkering. That’s just fine for most of the season, but with just four weeks left, points are now at a premium.
RSL clearly recognized that fact: they sit in 5th place, but all 5 teams below them in the West remain in the hunt and have games in hand on them. A result was critical, and they were not in a position to sit back. They did so at their own peril.
That is likely to be the case for Atlanta’s next two opponents, the New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution. Expect very open games that play into Atlanta’s strengths. The final two games are against the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC, who will almost certainly both be out of the playoffs by the time we face them. They’ll be playing for pride if nothing else.
A change and a rest are good
Tata decided to rest Chris McCann and Michael Parkhurst for this game. Not generally inclined to rotate his lineup, this was a much needed move, especially for the 34-year-old Parky. Normally very durable, he was clearly on his last legs after two road games this week.
He also brought Darlington Nagbe back after resting him in midweek, and man did that have an impact. Darlington bossed the midfield all evening.
With the rest, and an international break coming up after the New England game, and another rest with the first-round bye now clinched, the team heads into the playoffs with a very favorable schedule from a health standpoint as well as the schedule’s strength. This will allow for tactical choices galore as the second season is upon us.
Thursday morning was huge
The late late turnaround in San Jose was not just the momentum changer for that game, it was likely the momentum changer for the season. Saturday evening the team looked energized, focused and determined. They had proven something to themselves and it showed on the pitch. Atlanta was probably not lacking in confidence before that, but now they have it in spades. The Big Mo was timed to perfection.