The last three games for Atlanta United have been an emotional roller coaster. A road win that came thanks to the subs bailing out Frank de Boer, a frustrating home loss, and then a home win thanks to the subs bailing out Frank de Boer again. Saturday was winning ugly at its ugliest, there are no pretty words that I can apply to the 1-0 win against Colorado, but it was a win and that’s good.
Interestingly, if you took everything that everyone said about Atlanta losing to FC Dallas despite having the better chances in the game and said it about the win against Colorado it would actually be right. Colorado didn’t care about attacking, or possessing, or playing soccer, but Atlanta United didn’t do much to adjust to that until it was almost too late and oddly seemed unprepared for it.
Clearly, Frank de Boer is still learning MLS a little bit. Atlanta having the most talented team in the league is great, but it’s easy for teams to park the bus and hard to break them down. This week will be a different challenge for Atlanta as they play one of the best teams in the league on the road in what should be an entertaining and wide open game.
That Night King Tifo seems really fitting this weekend
SKC is the most insane team in MLS and I low key love them. They are not as good as Atlanta United when they play against Monterrey, but give Peter Vermes credit. He could have gone to Mexico, put 10 players behind the ball and tried to steal a point on the road in the CCL, but he ran out an aggressive 4-3-3 and got crushed 5-0. Then he came home needing to score five goals and put out an aggressive 4-3-3 and got crushed 5-2. It may be losing, but a 10-2 aggregate because you went all out and stuck to your attacking ethos is an admirable and honorable death.
Their defense has struggled in the league too and can’t seem to stop giving up four goals a game. Last week Sporting had three defensive starters injured. Some teams may have pulled back a little bit in the attack and focused on protecting the defense. Not Peter Vermes. He started an attacking midfielder, albeit a bad one, at left back and went right about his business. They even gave up a goal after the New England Revolution went down a man, but eventually came back to draw 4-4. The result wasn’t ideal and SKC gave up four goals for the second time in a row, having lost to the shame of MLS - the Earthquakes - 4-1 two weeks ago.
One reason is injuries and lack of fitness - it got pretty bad for SKC this week:
If SKC is forced to start subs or hasn’t been able to prepare for the game because of injuries that could obviously benefit Atlanta. On the other hand, maybe Vermes will play some kids that have no fear and don’t know that they should be terrified of the single minded fury at which Josef Martinez tries to smash the ball into the net without regard for his or anyone else’s health. Who knows, Sports! In any case, it will be a game in which Peter Vermes will need to be some kind of Night King and coax some life into his players.
Still, this could be a chance for Atlanta to go to KC, play the 8th best team in the West so far this year, steal an away win and maybe, maybe, maybe figure out some things in attack before the schedule once again gets congested. Soon enough, the games in hand will need to turn into points in the table.
This much is sure: Atlanta United will play soccer this weekend
We know Atlanta can create chances against teams... sometimes. We know the team has great players. We know that the Five Stripes have also played some very bad soccer this year. What will we see against SKC? In the attack if the great passes Pity makes find the feet or forehead of someone who can take a shot, if Barco looks like the kind of player who might be one day bossing games, and if Josef starts scoring in bunches again, maybe they’ll play good soccer.
There was some logical and reasonable debate about Pity earlier this week, but another position is in fact a void of doubt and confusion - left back. In the game against Colorado, Brek Shea played for 71 minutes. His crosses were under hit, they were over hit, he’s never really looked great defensively, and there were times when it looked like he was wide open for Barco to pass to him but perhaps his teammate didn’t trust him with the ball. He was subbed in the 71st minute, Darlington Nagbe dropped back into a sort of left wingback role and provided the assist for the game winner three minutes later. Three minutes. If Shea starts again against SKC, expect the entire wrath of Sporting’s attack to be centered around the left back position, the team exploits weaknesses and that is a spot Atlanta has struggled with all year.
Regardless of that, Sporting will be a real test for Atlanta’s very good and very underrated defense. The team is only allowing 1.14 goals per game but SKC attacks without a sense of its own well-being. They may not have a star striker, but Gerso, Johnny Russell, and Krisztian Nemeth are a fearsome front line if they’re healthy and the United central midfield and defense will have to put in a stellar effort to keep that average from going up.
The Battle of the Blue Hell: WARNING SPOILERS**
They had a zombie dragon and when Jon and Daenerys and everyone were making a plan for it they didn’t even talk about it. When the battle started, Jon’s plan seemed to more or less be - we try to do some defend the castle type stuff but when that doesn’t work we’ll resort to chaos and see how it goes. In the end Aquaman got all the magic space crystals or whatever and killed Theranos anyway so I guess it worked. PLAN.
**These are not actually spoilers.
What I’m saying is I have no idea what happens when Atlanta United comes up with their game plans. Things don’t seem to be working and then FdB ends up getting bailed out by his subs, I can live in a reality in which that’s his plan, so maybe just watch the last 15 minutes of the SKC game when he brings in Tito for Shea and plays a five forward formation then pretend that’s what had been happening since the opening whistle.
Soccer is un-explainable
Here is my tactical preview for this match: who knows what to expect out of the Five Stripes in this game... still. The great attacking team that won its first game because of a sub? The great attacking team that couldn’t coax the ball into the net against Dallas? The team that was frustrated for 74 minutes against the worst team in MLS? Somewhere in there it seems like a team that wants to run in the open, possess the ball, and score some of the glorious chances it creates is waiting to get out. Maybe this will be that game.