It’s always ill-advised to draw too many conclusions from preseason games. All players are still working on fitness, new players are adapting to their new club, existing players are adapting to the new players, and fans are wondering what the starting lineup is really going to look like.
On top of all that, although Atlanta United is now four games into preseason, this was the first game in front of a crowd and against a lower division team playing its own first preseason game. Moreover, the Birmingham Legion didn’t even start its own best XI: in the lineup announcement on the stadium scoreboard two of the Legion starters were listed as “trialist”. Those, by the way, turned out to be Johannes Bergmann, a German from the University of Maryland who went unselected in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, and Dillon Serna, who was released by the Colorado Rapids at the end of last season. That probably says more about the 2019 Rapids than it does about the 2020 Legion.
Atlanta did its own pre-game fake-out too. They provided the local broadcast channel what was pretty much a full first XI lineup in a 3-5-2 formation. Instead, several starters were rested and the actual formation was more of a floating 3-4-3/4-3-3 combo.
So, as many questions remain as answers were given.
However, we were all treated to a fun afternoon in surprisingly good conditions considering the weather earlier in the day. The Legion had its biggest crowd ever, somehow cramming 6,722 into BBVA Field, which has a nominal capacity of 5,000. The team also had its best merchandise sales day ever too – apparently travelling Atlanta fans buy a lot of souvenirs.
Well, the first thing we learned is that the new King Gold kits, which most agree are pretty cool, aren’t worth a damn in sunny outdoors conditions. The Legion could have helped in that regard – they were premiering their own new third kit on Saturday, but regularly wear their own second kit at home. Which happens to be gold on white.
We also learned that the Legion clearly got the memo on the preferred method of defending against Ezequiel Barco, who was fouled twice in the first minute. And we further learned that friendlies need VAR. Both Miles Robinson and Jeff Larentowicz got away with fouls in the box. Laurence Wyke, on the other hand, did not, just three minutes into his stint.
Finally, we learned that Birmingham City fans in England keep track of soccer in the US. They caught wind of this game, and what started out as lighthearted trolling on Twitter ended up with the Legion’s Magic City Brigade agreeing to hate Aston Villa and learn the words to Keep Right On.
Okay, enough of that, what did we really learn?
Ezequiel Barco looks sharp
Zeke was clearly the most threatening of Atlanta’s front three, and eventually broke the deadlock just before halftime, despite having been denied at least twice by Legion keeper Matt Van Oekel. He was fast, willing to shoot from distance, and floated around the field well. If he stays healthy and out of the Olympics, we should be good.
Matheus Rossetto may be the answer
Well, no, that was Jacob Peterson. Rob Usry has already sung Rossetto’s praises, and despite playing against a group of almost exclusively Legion subs and trialists, he certainly looked good, given that he had played just 18 minutes in one competitive game since September 15th last year. Is he the potential Darlington Nagbe replacement? That remains to be seen, and since he actually scored (beating the offside trap nicely) that’s probably a no. My own expectation was that Santiago Arzamendia was going to fill that role, but Rossetto likely beat him to it.
Looks like 3 at the back is going to be the standard setup
Frank de Boer went with George Campbell, Miles Robinson and Franco Escobar at the back, although Anton Walkes at left wingback floated in and out of the back like on occasion. It served well to keep the Legion at bay, who went without a single shot in the first half. Will it work against higher level opponents? We shall see.
Jake Mulraney was unimpressive
He drew a yellow card, and took a ridiculous dive that should have earned him a second. Other than that, he looked slow and was relatively easy for the Legion to defend. Like Rossetto, he has been short of playing time lately, but that’s not much of an excuse.
The midfield looks generally sound
Both open play Atlanta goals came from strong midfield play. Barco’s first half tally was the end result of just two passes that covered nearly the entire diagonal length of the field: Lennon from deep in Atlanta’s right corner to Pity, then Pity to Barco at the left side of the Legion penalty area. Rossetto’s goal was fed by a perfectly timed pass from Mo Adams. Emerson Hyndman was also solid in his 45 minutes, as was Anton Walkes.
So, the biggest issue remains what it has been for some time: how is FdB going to manage his back line? That got even hairier for a while with George Bello’s nasty head injury, which may yet keep him out of the lineup a while. Atlanta’s notorious lack of depth at left back is still there and still needs to be addressed.