So far Chapter III has looked more like what I expected Chapter I to look like. Atlanta United has struggled to gel basically all over the pitch, the much touted but recently struggling high-profile international manager seems to have underestimated the challenges that MLS and Concacaf offer (or is at least placing a lot of emphasis on turf and field conditions, which... OK?), and in the early part of the season the Designated Players have had uneven if not disappointing showings.
Against Monterrey, and DCU for that matter, the Atlanta attack failed to do what it did so well last year - get the ball to Josef Martinez in the box and let him use some part of his body to smash it into the net. The team had five shots and the only ones taken inside the 18 were by Miles Robinson and Brek Shea - two players who are not named Barco, Josef, Pity, or Tito. The defense let in two late goals that seemed oddly inevitable but at the same time avoidable - give credit to Dorlan Pabon who managed to finish a shot from outside the box despite Atlanta giving him so much space to line it up that the defenders probably believed that by doing so he would question reality and send his shot well into the stands. He didn’t and a third goal has the Five Stripes needing another comeback win to stay alive in CCL.
Atlanta United Prekrap
Things are not going well, but it’s early and it’s hard to believe that the entire season will go like the past four games have. FC Cincinnati is also facing a difficult opening to the season. They were badly outplayed by the Seattle Sounders and seem to be following the path of Minnesota United more so than Atlanta or LAFC in their first year. This isn’t by any means a must win game, it’s the second match in a long season, but make no mistake - Atlanta United is better than a team filled with MLS misfits, anonymous college graduates, and players that were OK in the USL. This should be an easy three points for the Five Stripes and the fact that there is perhaps some doubt going into the game says a lot about the last four matches.
There is no doubt at this point that part of the difficulty Atlanta has had tactically is how Frank de Boer is lining up his team. Playing an extremely attacking 3-4-3 with two holding midfielders, Atlanta is still working out how to build possession and create scoring chances, but it seems like the way the team is lining up is so unbalanced that it is just creating problems everywhere on the field. Brek Shea is very attack minded and is not a great defender causing problems on the left side when the opposition goes forward. The central midfield isn’t linking up with the forwards and the chances inside the 18 have evaporated. That same midfield duo can’t cover for the center backs either and it has cost the team in three losses now.
Perhaps the formation can work, but so far it hasn’t game in and game out. There’s little time between games to perfect the new system, but a tactical switch also seems unlikely.
Fußball Club Cinci-not very good so far
FC Cincinnati opened their MLS expansion season in nightmarish fashion against the Seattle Sounders. The team was ripped apart by the Seattle attack with Victor Rodriguez, Nico Lodeiro, and Raul Ruidiaz dominating the visitors and Jordan Morris looking like the American Xherdan Shaqiri.
In the game, FC Cincinnati started Eric Alexander at right wing and someone named Corben Bone played in the no. 10 role.
The team managed just seven shots with three on goal and only had 36% possession. It was a rout in ever sense of the word. Coming off of a difficult loss, FCC will enter another difficult environment. Atlanta United is more talented that Seattle, is coming off of winning MLS Cup, has a roster full of players that can put another hurt on the new team, and the fans will be howling for a win on Sunday.
That said, Corben Bone’s days may be numbered. Joining the squad on loan this week is Kenny Saief, the attacking midfielder who has been oft injured, sometimes hyped, and in and out of favor with whatever club he happens to be on in Belgium. He may or may not start, but Saief provides a much needed attacking boost for Cincinnati. With Atlanta United struggling so far this year, it isn’t unforeseeable that he - or Darren Mattocks or Kekuta Manneh or Fanendo Adi or a revenge seeking Kendall Waston - could be the difference in the result of the match.
Going Galaxy Brain
Before the DC United match I mentioned that maybe Atlanta would put out a lineup that was so bad that it’s good. Instead the team put out a lineup that was so good that it was bad - it turns out that Atlanta United cannot simply turn into the 2015 Colorado Rapids.
I tapped into my higher level of consciousness once again and it revealed to me that Atlanta United is a good team and that should Frank de Boer decide that five games in 17 days is a lot of soccer to be played, across three countries no less, his team’s depth should be able to carry it against a side like FC Cincinnati. Really, let’s see Andrew Carleton and Jeff Larentowicz start. Maybe even bring Josef off of the bench. Atlanta should be talented enough to start some depth players and roll the ball onto the field against an expansion side and come away with a win. It’s early in the year, perhaps the stars need rest ahead of mounting a comeback against Monterrey, plus everyone wants to watch Andrew Carleton nutmeg Alvas Powell.
Sticking to reality
Is that going to happen? Who knows. At this point there’s nothing to indicate that Frank de Boer is going to rotate his squad, if that’s good or bad is up for debate, but so far it seems like he’s confident in the resiliency of his players when it comes to playing a lot of minutes to begin the year. So far, FdB has chosen to rely on the best IX and their fitness rather than give minutes to players like Andrew Carleton and Jeff Larentowicz, I have a hard time thinking that’s going to change in a game against such a weak opponent.
The Five Stripes are in a position where the team hasn’t been able to take the game to its opponents and is instead reacting to what is happening in the match. Losing two games in a row is bad, losing three would be worse, but the team has an excellent opportunity to break that streak. At home against a team new to MLS, there’s every reason to think they’re capable of doing it.