Stop me if you’ve heard this story before. Atlanta United played the Charleston Battery in the fourth round of the US Open Cup and while missing most of the star players struggled to pull ahead of the USL team but finally won. The doughnut of time is truly a place where you may start on a journey only to find that you have ended exactly where you began.
Anyway, the team will have yet another chance not to get eliminated in the tournament as they take on the Columbus Crew. Ironically, Atlanta advanced after its match in Charleston was moved to Kennesaw because of terrible field conditions, something the Crew benefited from with water replacing sand. Somehow the USSF rules allow for a game to continue with puddles of standing water creating an impossible environment for play, but sand and water is a big no-no. MLS is a league that truly has no shame.
Will Atlanta United finally get past the round of 16 in the tournament on the third try? Is it even worth it if they do?
The last we saw the Columbus Crew, the team was riding high in the Eastern Conference. After beating Atlanta 2-0 thanks to a lot of rain and a lot of ball watching, the Crew went onto win against the New England Revolution. It looked like Caleb Porter was on his way to figuring out how to get his more possession based tactics worked out and that the Crew would continue the quality they showed under Gregg Berhalter. Since then, the team lost eight of its next 10 games only earning a win and draw in that time. They were, quite simply, exposed as massive frauds who were getting lucky results thanks to goals from their center back and not anything that Porter was able to implement as manager.
However, there have been signs of life in Middle-Ohio. In the last two games Columbus has five goals, only scoring five in the previous eight matches prior to that. Still, the Crew continued the Caleb Porter tradition of dropping points after the 75th minute as the Rapids found a game winner in the 89th and NYCFC earned a draw in the 76th in the most recent matches for the team. In short, they’re probably a long way from figuring things out.
While Atlanta United might be missing Josef Martinez due to international duty, the Columbus Crew will be without their best players also. Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp (stop laughing) will miss the match since they are with their former manager Berhalter trying to become the Columbus Crew of international soccer in the Gold Cup. Also missing will be Federico Higuain who suffered a torn ACL and Zack Steffen has departed for Manchester City/Dusseldorf.
As a result, the team will rely on getting the ball to David Accam and Pedro Santos on the wings with Patrick Mullins playing striker. In central midfield, the team will hope that David Guzman can break up Atlanta attacks and that center back Gaston Sauro can do an adequate job of containing Romario Williams or Brandon Vazquez while either Jon Kempin or Joe Bendik stands in goal.
Lots to do for the backups...
The lineup that Atlanta put up against the Battery was far from first choice. There are injuries, lots of tired legs, and international callups that have taken a toll on the energy reserves of the team. On top of that the US part of US Open Cup means that only five internationals can be on the field at one time. That will lead to some interesting choices as it seemed like the full compliment of Americans were in the roster against the Battery while Julian Gressel and Ezequiel Barco were held out for rest. With deeper options in defense, those players may be selected ahead of Florentin Pogba, Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez or Franco Escobar perhaps with Dion Pereira the other odd man out.
The bigger question may be in the backline. While the Crew are a flawed team, Atlanta is still reliant on its defense to get results. This might be especially true with Josef Martinez away, but Barco and Pity should be able to break down Columbus effectively enough. The problem in this game that Frank de Boer will have to resolve is: where does he need his international (read best) players? With Pity and Barco, Atlanta has two creative options on the field but that may sacrifice an international defender or even Eric Remedi if FdB thinks he needs a different presence in central midfield other than Jeff Larentowicz. How he chooses to solve that problem will go a long way in deciding how the match plays out.
This isn’t a galaxy brain thing, it’s just true
I mean if a soccer game is played behind closed doors, does anybody actually know the nationality of the players on the field? I wanted to put a clever quote from Baudrillard in here, but mostly this is a cynical observation and I actually enjoy seeing players like Patrick Mullins who I forgot existed every now and then.
Welcome to the valley of the real
It’s really very difficult to say how this game will go for Atlanta United. It can’t be underscored enough that the roster rules in the USOC mean that no matter what, Frank de Boer will be making a sacrifice at some position on the field in terms of the quality of player that he selects for the five international slots. That fact makes the already strange task of game preview guy that much more difficult. If the game can be boiled down to something it’s probably that Atlanta United is good and should be able to hold most of the possession in the game and if the Crew sit back and wait to be picked apart, that’s probably still what will happen regardless of who is on the field.