Atlanta United finally put everything together - the attack was cohesive, the defense was solid, the chances were created and they were put in the net. It was perfect, FdB didn’t have to hope one of the subs bailed him out and Atlanta dominated. Finally the team that wants to run in the open, possess the ball, and score some of the glorious chances it creates got out - let’s hope it continues to rampage across MLS this week. Sure, Sporting Kansas City was dealing with injuries on defense, but they were also shut down in the attack. Atlanta should feel really good about beating them for the first time as they get ready to take on another opponent they’ve never defeated.
The Toronto Pozuelos come to town
The Reds have had something of an exciting start to 2019. After struggling in 2018, the team has run off a 5-1-2 record but so far they haven’t exactly faced top competition. Their two losses have come against the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers and this will be another test for the visitors as they face an Atlanta team that has won three of its last four.
Part of Toronto’s problem is that its defense is quite inconsistent having given up 1.6 goals per game. If that average holds up, it would be 54 goals over 34 games, or just five less than Toronto allowed last year. The team is coming off of a 2-0 road win against Orlando, but the inept home team still managed 18 shots in the loss - that’s a number that Atlanta will turn into goals since the team doesn’t rely on Dom Dwyer aimlessly floating his shots all over the field like so many manatees flopping through life in central Florida.
The team has also had success by acquiring Alejandro Pozuelo, who has four goals and six assists in just six games this year, and letting him do all the work to win games for them. Without Jozy Altidore, who may or may not be available due to his inevitable annual hamstring injury, Toronto hasn’t skipped a beat thanks to Pozuelo. Atlanta will have to contain him to keep the visitors from doing something like scoring a goal in the 6th minute and bunkering for an hour and a half.
That said, Michael Bradley has two goals and two assists on the year. His main role is shielding the back line, where he’s had some miscommunication with defenders that have allowed goals, but he also seems to be more involved in the attack. Bradley has always been great at hitting a long ball, especially a booming diagonal pass that switches the field on a counter, but his connection with Pozuelo coupled with his constant ability to just end up everywhere on the field to disrupt the opposition’s forays forward will be something to watch in the match.
Teams have had success against the Five Stripes at home by scoring early and bunkering, pressing, catching Atlanta sleeping late, or doing something to make Atlanta’s keeper get a red card. Toronto can definitely press, but it hasn’t quite been what they are doing in 2019. I expect them to try and disrupt Atlanta’s possession, but press more selectively and try to push forward on the counter. It may just take one chance for Pozuelo to steal a point or win for the visitors, so the backline will have to be organized for the whole 90 minutes.
Games in hand, points in the table
Here we are - Atlanta United will be taking on a team it has never beaten before and that cost it the Supporters Shield last year. The players should be motivated enough by that to go into this game, but this is a huge stretch of matches for the Five Stripes. While the team was busy trying to figure out the Concacaf Champions League with a bye week and international break thrown in, the rest of MLS was playing games. That meant the Five Stripes have two games in hand on most of the conference, something it shares with Toronto FC.
That time is over, Atlanta is now in position to climb against the rest of the conference, which is mostly filled with clueless frauds like the Columbus Crew and false prophets like the Philadelphia Union. NYCFC seems to have started figuring things out, the Red Bulls beat the Zlatans, meanwhile DC United looks to be for real. If the Five Stripes are going to push for a top spot in the East, they need to keep winning games - especially home games. Toronto is flawed, but they can probably score 70 goals this year and allow 56 goals and finish at the top of the conference. So a win not only takes points in the table from a conference rival, but it’s just damn time that Atlanta beats the Reds.
Without Barco, Tito should get the start on the left - he can set up goals and score them, but he will not replace Zeke’s playmaking. That will also mean that much of that role will need to fall on the shoulders of Pity Martinez. So far, Pity hasn’t lived up to his transfer fee, but his skill and technical ability is undeniable. If he can use those skills to fill Barco’s role facilitating the attack the team should look like it did on Sunday. If not, well... Atlanta is still talented enough to create scoring chances since Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel are both capable of setting up goals, and in Julian’s case scoring them.
If Toronto cedes possession, Atlanta will need to make the most of their time with the ball and not just shuttle the ball sideways without creating anything. The Reds are very susceptible in defense and Atlanta should be able to find pockets of space even if they take a more defensive approach to the game. Still, this may be another match where the visitors don’t want to risk playing an open game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and it will be up to Atlanta to break them down.
This one again, but actually true, and a great idea
I’m really just here for the memes.
It took a while, but it seems like Frank de Boer has figured out his tactics and the best situation with the players available at his disposal. I’m sorry I doubted you Parky and I’m glad it’s starting to work FdB.
A Huge game
Atlanta has three mid-week games in addition to the weekend matches this month. May is going to be busy and critical for how the team finishes in the table. Of course all of that is looking ahead, what matters now is the game against Toronto - a talented but flawed team that Atlanta should be able to beat at home.