This has been a strange season for the Atlanta United Football Club. The team went through periods of looking awful, a time when patience was preached and eventually the team looked a little better. It still didn’t look right - not allowing goals but not scoring goals isn’t what Atlanta United is all about. Frank de Boer thought otherwise and seemed to even get some traction with his philosophy before the Gold Cup/Copa America break.
After the summer vacation though, the bottom fell out of the boat. The team started losing games and dropping leads, the players seemed unhappy, and the manager didn’t really seem like he knew what to do about it. This just looked like how it was going to be, a kind of middling season where the players struggled to adjust to a new manager and the new manager struggled to realize that he was in a league that features a 37 year-old telling everyone how terrible the defenders are while doing things he couldn’t do in any other place in the sport to back it up. But then it started turning around and Atlanta is winning cup finals, beating really good teams in the East, and even won a game on the road.
That might be the most surprising part, that it’s turning around. MLS might not have been what Frank de Boer was expecting and the players probably were not expecting him as well, but over the past few weeks it is working.
Portloland Trolls Football Club
Behold the single greatest achievement in the history of the Portland Timbers Football Club:
So if marketing uses an image of you to advertise the next game, do you get a reduction in your 3 game suspension? Or maybe a discount on the fan training course? #AUnitedFront https://t.co/ZH1gtJV9cQ— huck (@huckbales) August 13, 2019
It’s a troll and it’s a great one because A. it is totally plausible that MLS would do something like this because “speak before you think” seems to be the league’s motto, plus it’s like telling someone that McDonald’s uses potatoes and not apples in their apple pies and B. isn’t a badly written 1,000 word screed pointlessly complaining about how something new that everyone loves isn’t as good as something old and is so embarrassing that it eventually gets taken down from a supporters’ group blog before an embarrassing showing in the MLS Cup Final.
It is also better than anything the Timbers have ever done in their history. A 2015 MLS Cup win thanks to a backpass and just general blunders by the opposition isn’t nearly as impressive as this (also, the obvious remedy to the whole controversy is to ban all flags and banners, this isn’t hard). But what can you expect out of fans who say things like NO PITY and PTFCTID (which I learned does not stand for PEACHTREE (bad word) CITY TILL I DIE) unironically?
Anyway, as far as how the defending 8th place MLS team in 2018 is doing now, well - they sit in 7th place in the West, or 9th overall. It’s a familiar part of the table for the Timbers. That does sound pretty unimpressive, but it’s only three points out of third and they do have a game in hand on much of the conference, so I’m sure it’s a tremendous accomplishment to be one of seven teams in the West that are not LAFC and are basically indistinguishable from one another.
Part of why they sit where they do in the table is that MLS doesn’t care about the quality of the product it puts out as long as long as eventually the team plays in a stadium that looks basically OK. While Providence Park was undergoing renovations, Portland opened the year with 12 straight on the road, in which they did manage four wins and a draw - not bad. Since welcoming fans back to a minor league baseball stadium with the second smallest field in the league, the Timbers are 5-1-2 and will have nine more games at home with just one on the road to end the year. Needless to say, they need to make the most of those home games to reach the mediocrity they’re capable of before being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.
In general, Portland has been able to play what passes for fun, attacking soccer focused on possession and creating chances, but their backline is still a big ole problem. To address that they signed a striker, Brian Fernandez, who has 10 in 12 games since coming in from Necaxa.
Signing him means that Diego Valeri can do more creating in midfield and isn’t as responsible for scoring all of Portland’s goals, while Sebastian Blanco can drift wide on the left to cause problems on that side. Elsewhere, Diego Chara is still an aggressive and fearless defensive midfielder for better or worse, while the backline is... still sorta held together by some guys who can play positions in defense in front of Jeff Attinella look-a-like Steve Clark (who is now playing for his 43rd different MLS team).
It worked, I was right all along
Atlanta United keeps doing this thing where the team gets better every game it’s played in since losing to the Sounders a few weeks ago. In a way, the timing couldn’t be better, the team is putting it all together and the tactics are working as United pushes for a top spot in the East, has won a major international competition, and reached the final of a historic domestic cup. As important as consistency is, peaking at the right time is also vital and the Five Stripes seem to be doing that...
Or, well, the complaints that LGP and Pity had made about Frank de Boer’s tactics were finally heard loudly when they came out of the mouth of Josef Martinez and the manager decided to let a team built for scoring get back to trying to score. Luckily, Atlanta has changed tactics and its best players are getting healthy at the same time and the results have been much better.
Aside from beating Orlando in the Open Cup, that hasn’t been seen on the road as of late having last won a league match on the road in mid-May. That said, the last two matches played away from MBS do include a high stakes Open Cup win and a heartening never-say-die showing in Los Angeles. The wins at home have Atlanta showing that they should win the East, but that is really dependent on getting results on the road. Portland is a tough environment, but the Five Stripes have the talent, depth, and are showing that the mentality that seemed to cost them results against Toronto and NYRB is emerging as a strength.
If there’s a downside to this match for the team that might put that mental edge at risk, it is that the last three matches have been so huge for Atlanta. Advancing to a cup final, beating one of the best teams in the conference, and then going all out and winning a game they could have easily treated as a friendly is surely as psychologically draining as it is physically tiring. Frank de Boer has the team believing that they can win games and play high-flying attacking soccer while doing it, that will need to be the case again as the squad travels out west if it wants to keep its winning streak going.
Everything is fine
I’m sure it’s fine.