The Rekrap we’d like to forget
Well at least we can’t write about a disappointing performance from Atlanta United over the most recent weekend. The 1-1 draw to the Union was not good. But not only that, it was confusing. Michael Parkhurst at left back and then subbed before the hour mark, Eric Remedi and Darlington Nagbe not being on the same page in central midfield, every conceivable lineup played in the span of 18 seconds, a Josef Martinez shot that hit the crossbar that would have gone in if Tata Martino were still the manager (you can’t prove that it wouldn’t have happened so it must be true)... It wasn’t good, the players looked confused and frustrated, Frank de Boer made changes that didn’t make sense until going with a tactical switch and taking off Parky for Brek Shea and then putting in Ezequiel Barco to play attacking midfield and save a point. Was that his plan, or something that just happened?
Whatever the answer Atlanta United is sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with two draws at home and zero league wins on the year. The team has had a long time to rest after the fixture congestion of Concacaf Champions League and figure things out. This week will be a chance to find redemption against a team that looks good in the table, but might not be deserving of its results based on what’s happened on the field.
Prekrapping better days ahead, or at least the promise of a new sunrise
Will this be it? The week Atlanta United finally wins an MLS game and that delightful petrichor fills the early green-tinged spring air after a relative victory drought? Who knows, if the international break was a time for the team to sort out its tactics and prepare to play against the American Bielsa, this was it. One can imagine a scene from a movie with the manager standing in front of a group of players eager for a win and bellowing something about “THE SEASON STARTING TODAY” and discussing how the team will be completely different now that Franco Escobar is healthy and ready to solve all of its problems. The flip side of the international break is that Atlanta’s best players were on international duty, Pity got injured, and their time together is once again limited in training mitigating whatever advantages may have been gained over the break.
Still, Atlanta United could have something of an advantage in this game. The Crew under Caleb Porter are less pressing, it seems at least, and more possession oriented. They have a few wins, but a middling draw and loss in a game they were badly out played in so far under the new manager. That possession style might benefit Atlanta if the Crew continue to struggle with their own tactics in this game once again. Still, unless it has suddenly come together, the Five Stripes are at the mercy of their opponents being less effective than they are and will need that to be the case if the team still hasn’t gelled.
That’s a pretty apt title for how the Crew played against the Philadelphia Union last weekend. Without Wil Trapp, Zack Steffen, and Gyasi Zardes, Columbus was totally dominated by the Union. David Accam did something useful and scored a brace while the Crew allowed a third goal to someone named Ilsinho. It’s not like Philly was at full strength either. Andre Blake, Mark McKenzie, and Marco Fabian were all unavailable for the Union. What did Columbus expect with starting Joe Bendik in goal though?
Things also more or less went according to plan for Caleb Porter’s perfected possession based tactics that he insists on playing as a tribute to the 2009 FC Barcelona team. Tiki-taka is not dead, it’s alive and well in Central Ohio. The Crew kept the ball for 54% of the game as they tried to claw their way back from the 3-0 deficit after just 48 minutes and only managed five shots with just one on goal.
A lot of possession with not a lot of shots? That sounds shockingly familiar.
The Crew will have Trapp, Zardes, and possibly Steffen back this weekend. The USMNT goalkeeper was kept out of the national team and missed the match due to a minor knee injury. Should he return, it will obviously be more difficult to score three goals on him that it was to do so against Joe Bendik. Still, the scores from Accam may be promising for Atlanta United as they prepare for the game. The Union pressed the crew into turnovers and then slipped throughballs to the speedy winger who made no mistake on his chances.
The Crew midfield should be tidier with Trapp back for Ricardo Clark and Zardes is one of the best strikers in MLS (not joking), so the chances may re-appear this weekend. Federico Higuain will also have less responsibility to run the entire attack with Trapp able to play passes to cut through the Atlanta lines. That said, the Crew haven’t exactly displayed ruthless effectiveness in the attack. The team has created 8.5 shots a game through four matches and has only scored four goals on the year with half of those coming from center back Gaston Sauro. Despite their 2-1-1 record, Columbus is more getting by than dominating opponents.
Going de Boer brain
The attempt at humor in this section generally follows this set up: something happens with Atlanta United in the last game or with some kind of team news. I exaggerate it and follow it to an illogical conclusion - and thus, comedy! It doesn’t really work though when what I say ends up being something that might happen. For example, the last article’s meme may very well have been this:
It seems ridiculous until it happens and then it does and the true absurdity of it collapses in on itself and it’s as funny as it is sad. This week, we’ll try something new, see if you get what I do here:
Maybe just get the team together on the same page with tactics the players have shown they can play and work on the exotic Dutch stuff once the team has that baseline to fall back on. This one’s really not going to happen.
I don’t know what to say - it’s a process, (presumably, right? there’s a plan right? RIGHT?) and we’re left with no choice but to trust it. Either practice this week has paid off or it hasn’t. This is going to be a difficult game for Atlanta United away from home against a team that’s at least as lucky as it is good. If there is one thing going for the Five Stripes it’s that Caleb Porter must be in contention for holding the record for most leads lost after the 75th minute in MLS history (I have no data to back that up, but I’m sure 538 would tell us that it’s true). If there’s something else going for it, it’s that Tito Villalba might get to start and he’s played a pivotal role in Atlanta’s wins over the Crew in the past.