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Prekrap - Atlanta United vs. Chicago Fire: IT’S COMING HOME

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We need to establish the running game

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Atlanta United FC Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

That was more like it, kinda. At least the scoreline was. We’re seeing something different out of Atlanta United this year. The defense is stronger, the attack isn’t as focused on scoring goals, but the wins are coming. However you want to spin it, Atlanta United is coming out of their congested late-April-May-first week of June schedule nightmare with a dream scenario. The team has 21 points in 12 games including going 3-2 in five away games. It’s a pretty solid tally given that they were in last place in April and it seemed like all hope was lost.

Atlanta continued their domination of Minnesota United last night. It wasn’t beautiful attacking soccer but it was exciting to see Atlanta enfeeble the Loons again. The defense was especially great allowing just three chances on goal with the best bunch of shots barely stopped by Brad Guzan using every inch of his what I am sure is 10 foot frame when fully extended to keep the game at 1-0. That lead didn’t hold and Josef Martinez got into some space and did what he does best 1v1 against a keeper that wasn’t good enough to play for Arsenal. Not only that, but Dion Pereira showed himself to be a version of Yamil Asad that has a lower work rate and elbows that aren’t as sharp in a solid showing. The end result was a 3-0 win on short rest after a tough loss.

IT’S COMING HOME

There’s an important transfer roomer that’s been floating around and I need to address it. I hinted at it on twitter when I said:

TODAY WAS STUPID AND MOVING IS DUMB AND NOBODY SHOULD EVER DO IT BUT 3-0 WHO CARES SOCCER IS COMING HOME AND BY THAT I MEAN I’M [redacted] MOVING BACK TO ATLANTA

The pass is on, I’m coming home Atlanta (not quite yet, in July probably).

The last two years have been a roller-coaster of emotions and if this wasn’t happening I may be writing something different in this section. It was really difficult for me to leave Atlanta, settling somewhere new is never easy but watching Atlanta United from afar probably made it harder. When the family decided we would decamp from Central Pennsylvania we weren’t sure where we would end up. I think there’s a good chance that if we weren’t headed back that I would be possibly saying goodbye to DSS. Not being in Atlanta but having something that represented the city that I couldn’t and wouldn’t have as a part of my life was getting to be more than I wanted to keep having to reconcile and letting go of writing about the team was one way I thought about dealing with that.

Thanks to little more than chance that isn’t happening - perhaps the universe bent itself in some inexplicable and uncontrollable way to bring us home, I don’t know. If that’s what happened I’m sure glad that it did.

Wherever you go, there you are

Ah yes, my biography writ large across the Atlanta United schedule as the Five Stripes take on the team from the city of my birth - the Chicago Fire.

So far the story of the Fire this season seems like it will be a continuation of their recent history. They haven’t done anything of note in MLS in a decade aside from be a cudgel for MLS analysts to use when someone suggests Atlanta is the best expansion team in MLS history. They play in an empty stadium near Chicago and every season they turnover 20 players on their roster. The plan for the team seems to be something along the lines of doing what MLS teams were doing five years ago with a bad imitation of trying to develop players like FC Dallas does thrown in. To an extent, they deserve credit for that last part and Dorde Mihailovic is an exciting player, but how much credit the Fire should get for that is another issue.

But they have a plan to turn it all around - just move! The team is going to relocate back to the House Cutler Built - Soldier Field. No word on if this means they will also sign good players, not alienate the young ones they manage to get a hold of before realizing they’re on the MLS version of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and market the team to engage with soccer fans in what should be one of the best soccer cities in the country.

As far as this year, the Fire turned over 20 or so players on the roster again, play Basitian Schweinsteiger as a center back as a practical joke, traded for Francisco Calvo, and don’t have much of a cohesive style or identity but every now and then Aleksander Katai, C.J. Sapong, or Nemanja Nikolic do something good and they get a goal. The result is that they’re settling into their typical mid-lower table position that they’ll occupy for the rest of the season. But hey, they only have to finish in 7th to make the playoffs this year.

One more match until the break

Give Adrian Heath credit. He saw that Atlanta United under Frank de Boer wants to build possession, doesn’t like being pressed because it makes building possession hard, and is really focused on stopping early build up defensively but has problems giving up chances on longballs. As a result, he didn’t have his team press, let Atlanta buildup possession all night, and tried to build up rather than play long against the Five Stripes. It all worked perfectly and led to a vintage Minnesota United performance and 3-0 win for Atlanta.

The Fire are basically the Eastern Conference version of the Loons - their players are terrible, old, or college graduates and the roster was put together a week after the season started. Atlanta United can work with this. What’s more is that the Fire don’t usually press, they might have an inclination toward possession but not a passionate desire to keep the ball. Amazingly the team decided that to shore up their defense they needed Francisco Calvo after he was sent away from Minnesota for not being nice enough or something.

If Chicago doesn’t do something clever, like play Basti as a deep creator to fling long balls down the field the way he did in Chicago in 2017, then this should be a game that plays into Atlanta’s strengths as they are now. The lower-risk possession that FdB wants the team to attack with means the Fire have fewer chances to break on the counter and the team’s stifling defense, which hasn’t allowed a goal at MBS in four games, should be enough to contain the visitors.

A key matchup in the game will be between Francisco Calvo and Disrespect. The Fire center back deserves respect but didn’t get it in Minnesota. Now he’s on a team that nobody pays attention to and has been an embarrassment for 10 years so he should fit in nicely - unless Disrespect has something to say about it.

More like Linebacker United

There’s been some talk about Atlanta United being boring now. There’s even been lazy writing that relies heavily on stereotypes that boil down to “Latinos and Dutches are different” while also ignoring that there is more than one way of playing good soccer and that nationality probably doesn’t have much to do with it. Atlanta United is a different team now, that much is sure, but change is the only constant in life. The team isn’t as high flying or running past everyone to win every game 4-1. Even on Wednesday night when de Boer began making subs, he was taking off attackers for defenders - Tata would have been putting in Tito Villalba to push for more goals. Another way of looking at this is...

Wait. Damnit. Wait. Is Atlanta United the Penn State football team now?

The priority in attack is more on taking care of the ball than creating a spectacular goal, the ground game is really just eating up the clock, and the result is long drives with short passes and fewer turnovers... I can almost hear “another first down Gus, you know that defense has been on the field for a LONG TIME this afternoon.” On top of that our linebackers are as solid as they’ve ever been, and I mean defense wins championships...

In other words:

I should have known something was up when I saw the guy in a lion suit on the field doing back flips and had the sudden urge to go to the grocery store when it was empty during Gamedays. If I move back to Atlanta and find that the best restaurant in town is Sheetz I’m really not going to be happy.