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Eight thoughts on Atlanta United’s gritty away draw against Motagua

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The Five Stripes kicked off their 2020 slate with a hard fought performance in a tough environment.

Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United

Atlanta United opened their competitive schedule for 2020 with a hard fought 1-1 draw away to FC Motagua in the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday night. With the odds stacked against them in terms of injuries and other absences, the Five Stripes put up a valiant effort to get themselves in prime position for the second leg next week. Here are a few thoughts on the opening match of the new campaign.

  • No one lays awake the night before the first match of the season fantasizing about a gritty draw away from home. But that’s what the occasion happened to call for and the team got the job done. Under the harsh circumstances of being short-handed and lacking proper match fitness, you can’t really ask for much more.
  • Full credit goes to Frank de Boer for getting the tactics absolutely right. After a full preseason in which it appeared he was married to the 3-4-3 formation, he flipped everything on its head and trotted out a very conservative 4-3-3 in a tough environment. The move worked and Atlanta was a lot more compact than they had been during their five preseason friendlies.
  • One nitpicky item is the decision to start Mo Adams instead of Brooks Lennon and deploying Franco Escobar on the left side. Lennon apparently picked up a small knock, but still was able to play a large portion of the second half. Perhaps this decision was an attempt to go even more defensive-minded to cut out Motagua’s threats on the flank. They had a lot of success with their crosses anyways, but maybe they would’ve had even more if the alternative had been used instead. Who knows?
  • Atlanta had difficulty dealing with the crosses all night and were quite lucky to only give up one goal. Thankfully Pity Martinez and Josef Martinez combined for a moment of magic to offset the goal and get a valuable away goal. After that, the idea was just to kill off the game any way possible and they did a great job of doing that. It wasn’t pretty but it was never going to be.
  • With so many players unavailable for selection, it’s impossible to properly judge the lineup that featured in this match. It was a means to an end that did what it needed to do. However, the gaping hole in midfield left by Darlington Nagbe was quite obvious, still. The midfield three of Emerson Hyndman, Eric Remedi and Jeff Larentowicz did an okay job clogging up the middle and forcing Motagua outside. But, when it came to composure on the ball and linking the defense to attack there was a lot missing. Both Hyndman and Remedi in particular showed some nervy moments when trying to link up play. This is an area that will be focused on all season and one that needs to improve from this performance.
  • Brad Guzan was a monster. That is all.
  • The effort displayed by the whole team throughout the 90 minutes was very impressive. To see the likes of Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco closing down defenders and winning the ball in second half stoppage time was an inspiring scene. This shows that the team bought in to the mission and are on the same page. That’s very encouraging to see from a long-term perspective. Josef putting in the work is made all the more impressive by the fact he was sick prior to the match.
  • Leg two sets up perfectly for the Five Stripes. They hold the away goal and can determine whatever tempo they want to set for the 90 minutes in Kennesaw. I expect a dominant performance and a stress-free win in front of a favorable crowd. The one thing De Boer needs to caution his side about is the counter-attack. Dominating possession at home is a given for this team. But they cannot leave huge gaps open on the counter like we saw on several occasions in the preseason.