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De’s Nuggets: Breaking down the double bus

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We dive into Frank de Boer’s postmatch comments after Atlanta United’s 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids

MLS: Combine Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Neither manager pulled their punches when describing the Colorado Rapids following a 1-0 Atlanta United victory last weekend at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“They park two busses in front of their own goal,” said Frank de Boer, channeling his inner Mourinho to deliver a pithy post-match quote about his opponent. Rapids manager Anthony Hudson, meanwhile, described his own team as one “fighting at the bottom with a bottom group of players.”

Ouch. Hope his players don’t read newspapers, social media, or texts from their friends and family!

Here are a few more nuggets from De Boer:

“You always need two teams to try and play football, but tonight there was only one. We tried to win the game. It’s hard in international football and here when team’s play like this. You have to have a fantastic day, even the bigger teams in Europe have problems against teams that play this kind of system.”

And for his part, Hudson admitted there’s only one system his team could use against Atlanta, a team that despite its struggles so far this season still have an MLS MVP named Martinez and a South American Player of the Year named Martinez.

“We come to a place where a team full of superstars and big money players and massive, massive gap in class, and we’ve set up a different way,” Hudson said.

Indeed, the Rapids packed it in: Put everyone behind the ball in a 5-4-1 block and pray for the best — i.e. they waited for opportunities to score on the counter as Atlanta put numbers forward into the attack.

The stats told the story of the match, as Colorado had a paltry 34% of possession and 30 clearances. Perhaps most telling of all, neither team was called for offsides. Not once. This is partly because Josef “The Offside King” Martinez is now playing a little deeper than in season’s past as he takes on more of a hold-up role under FdB. But with Colorado playing so deep and ceding possession at every opportunity, it was also extremely difficult for any of Atlanta’s players to get in behind the opponent’s backline.

The first half was ugly as hell, with Colorado content to sit deep, stifle Atlanta’s ability to run through the channels, and limit the Five Stripes to difficult shots, all but one of which came from outside the 18.

However, the second half was much better for Atlanta. Here’s what Frank de Boer said he told the team at halftime to “have patience”:

“Don’t just run in front of the ball, let the ball do the job. Try go from left to right, and if it doesn’t work then go back to open gaps between the lines. That’s when you need to have the right ball, with the right speed and individual quality to make the right decisions.”

The FdB tactical game plan essentially boils down to retaining possession while moving the ball quickly from side to side. This cross-field passing—which hasn’t always been as quick as it needs to be for Atlanta—is meant to move defenders around, which in turn opens space for runners in behind the opponent.

From there, the system depends on its offensive stars to create numerical advantages through individual quality, whether it’s in the form of a speedy run by Tito, a great pass by Gressel, or a flashy dribble from someone like Pity, Barco, or Nagbe.

De Boer specifically cited this as the reason he brought Tito on as a sub and moved Nagbe to a wider position in midfield:

“I told [Nagbe] and Tito you have to go wide and if can go 1-v-1, then you have to do. As a midfielder, he isn’t playing left full back, but you also have to create space for Tito. Those type of actions always make the difference in games. It’s always one man more in the back, then somebody has to step out. The individual quality has to make a difference in 1-v-1 situations. Then, we have an advantage up front.

“I remember from (Pep) Guardiola that he says from the back we have one man more. When somebody comes to me, I play to the other free man. In the end, it comes to somebody who can make a difference. When we are in the second or third phase, we have to have somebody with the skills to make an excellent pass. Again, it’s difficult against this kind of system because there are so many bodies in defense. Hopefully, we are going to do it better next time.”

The tactical talk and Tito sub made the differences, as Atlanta created a lot more danger for Colorado in the second half. The graphics tell the tale:

Overall, I think the second half should provide DSS readers with some positive vibes moving forward. Yes, the team looked poor in the first half, but they made the right adjustments in the second half to create more chances against the Rapids’ double-bus deployment defense, a tactic I’m sure we’ll many times again this season.

It also might make you feel better to read what Tata Martino said when the AJC’s Doug Roberson asked what advice he’d give to the Five Stripes faithful:

“First, have patience. They shouldn’t think that it’s that easy to win titles. They shouldn’t believe that you can win a title every year in MLS. Also because they kept the base of the team, they replaced the best player (Miguel Almiron) on their team with the best player (Pity Martinez) in South America. They didn’t rest on their laurels. They doubled-down on their bet.”

Say it with me: Soccer is hard, Pity is good. Soccer is hard, Pity is good. Soccer is hard, Pity is good.

I bet you feel better already.