In its short history Atlanta United has been pretty fortunate. There have been late goals to drop points, bad referee decisions, star players haven’t come through, depth has been lacking, and the team has lost games because of it. But the team has been on the positive side of that its fair share too. Rarely have all of those things merged to form a perfect storm of fate, human error, and personal failure leading to a spectacular disaster. Truly the last five minutes of the match in Toronto were the essence of the MLS experience boiled down to one thrilling, shocking moment and what should be an embarrassment for the league. Throw in the teams playing while missing key players because of international tournaments and you have another thing the league offers fans - the chance to watch their clubs play with second level talent because owners won’t let themselves spend more of suitable depth pieces. This is essentially what Atlanta and Toronto lined up with:
**dusts off old joke + hits copy pasta**
Overall the team played much as you would expect missing two of its best players with Franco Escobar absent and its new designated player not offering much so far in his time with the team. Yes, there was a bad VAR call in a running theme of the summer for a technology that seems as unnecessary as it is flawed, but the team also played poorly. I was double screening the game with the USMNT match against Panama and watching them at the same time hurt my heart.
Revenge is a dish best served French
Atlanta United will welcome the Montreal Impact to Mercedes Benz Stadium in a battle of second vs. fourth. The teams’ places in the table comes with the caveat that Atlanta has played three fewer games than the Impact and frankly it is a little inexplicable that Montreal should be as close to the top of the conference given their uneven performances.
By uneven... I mean it’s almost inexplicable that they have won any games at all this year. The Impact have had ugly losses to Sporting KC (7-1 while SKC was in the middle of the CCL and busy getting ready to have all their players injured or tired), Philadelphia (3-0 in a game the Union won handily), FC Cincinnati (2-1 in a game played against FC CINCINNATI), a 4-2 stomping by LAFC (everyone is going to get stomped by LAFC), and Orlando City (3-0, which HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA). Add in three scoreless draws to DC United, NYCFC, and the New England Revolution and it’s really puzzling what this team is doing with 30 points.
Those points have come in decent wins though - they beat NYRB 2-1 and totally shut down the mighty Tom Barlow, that game came in a four win stretch. The Impact are coming off of two straight wins against Seattle and Portland so perhaps this is just a streaky team that gets OK results every now and then, but overall shouldn’t be considered a contender.
As far as what they’ll do in the game, the team relies on attacking midfielder Saphir Taider to try and create a threat going forward. Central striker Maxi Urruti is as inconsistent as he is occasionally brilliant and Orji Okwonkwo on the opposite wing from Taider seems to be coming into his own while on loan from Bologna with four goals on the year, including beating the Timbers all by himself on Wednesday. Against Portland they played something of a 5-3-2ish thing with Bacary Sagna (yes of Arsenal) as a wing back, but otherwise feature five other anonymous players who will try to not give up seven goals and embarrass Evan Bush again.
I cannot underscore how weird it is that this team is in the position it is in, it has scored 23 goals, given up 29 goals - which is a negative six goal differential. Even if you throw out the SKC game, that’s a dead even 22ga/gf stat. MLS is the only league something like this is possible in.
It’s going to keep being weird and bad probably
Paraguay was eliminated from the Copa America last night so Miguel Almiron will be back with the team soon DAMNIT WHY? We saw what the team looked like with unlimited internationals but no Barco, Tito, Josef, or Franco. It was bad. It might get better just by virtue of the fact that the team is playing at home, but any consistent style seems to falter and go out the window as soon as the second string lineup starts. Two or three players absent seems manageable to keep something resembling the style Frank de Boer wants, but five changes from a first choice XI means it’s almost an Open Cup roster kicking the ball around.
It’s hard to look at the last game and not immediately see all the shenanigans because they were everywhere. Pre-game, in-game, the VAR outside of the game, the nearly post-game PK call, the PK miss, LGP going off on the refs, SHENANIGANS. It was like ordering a Number Four with a Smile and not getting the smile. ABSURD.
There were some OK parts of the game. It seems like Brandon Vazquez can hang with MLS defenders, he should have no issue doing what he did against Toronto against someone like Rudy Camacho. That said, what he didn’t do needs to improve - finishing and scoring. Vazquez will be extra motivated and should get a boost from the home crowd, so look for a huge celebration from him if he puts the ball in the net tomorrow. Meanwhile, Julian Gressel is still the best DP level player in the league not on a DP contract while the most expensive DP in the league didn’t step up when he needed to in Toronto.
Time for the Mac Attack
This isn’t strictly related to Atlanta United, but it applies to them and the whole league. With a shorter time to get all the games in MLS rosters are stretched to the limit.
They were already pretty shallow outside of the first choice XI, but the shortened schedule and international tournaments has made it that much worse. Is this what MLS wants to be? A league where the drop off in talent on teams is so dramatic that the quality of soccer takes a huge dip? It’s definitely hurting the product that they’re selling and should be something the league cares a lot about. With a new CBA up for negotiation at the end of the year something might change, and it needs to.
Either it’ll work or...
I’ll spare you. At this point the players should know what Frank de Boer wants to do. They had two weeks off to work on it. Pity should have gotten a kick in the pants being left off of the Copa America team, but that doesn’t seem to improved his play and neither has his coach making puns in his expense after the games. Roster instability aside, the team needs to do better. Montreal are huge HUGE frauds, the next game is against the dreadful Chicago Fire and then it gets more difficult as NYRB, Seattle, Houston, DC, LAFC, LA Galaxy, NYCFC, and Portland await. The team will have to show they aren’t frauds before we can think about how many points they’ll get over the next month - including Wednesday, that’s a period of time that will see them play EIGHT league games and an Open Cup match.