While Atlanta United failed to end its winless streak, the performance in Rob Valentino’s debut as interim manager was inspired. The Five Stripes went on the road to FC Cincinnati and walked out with a well-deserved 1-1 draw and were a bit unlucky not to collect all three points. Here are a few reasons why this match has many as optimistic as they’ve been for quite a while:
- CHANCES! SHOTS! COUNTER-ATTACKS! There was actually soccer being played for the majority of the 90 minutes between both sides and most importantly, it was really damn fun to watch. Let’s get the obvious caveats out the the way, both good and bad. Cincy are not a good defensive team whatsoever and Atlanta didn’t have at least four sure-fire starters available to them. Nevertheless, Valentino’s tweaks seemed to trade in possession for energy and proactiveness as the team was as dangerous in attack as its looked all season. They managed an expected goals total of 1.88 on 22 shot attempts, according to Opta, one of, if not their best totals all season. If not for some good saves and some suspect 1-vs-1 finishing, Atlanta would’ve taken full points and capped off a great night with the end result.
- The most noticeable improvement to my amateur wannabe managerial eyes was the effectiveness of United’s high press. They seemed to be able to put a considerable amount of pressure on Cincy as they attempted to build out of the back and created quite a few turnovers in dangerous areas. If the attackers could’ve shown a little more composure and guile once winning the ball back, this match could’ve had a completely different tone early on.
- One player who shined brightly was obviously Marcelino Moreno. The midfielder had one of his best performances for the club after basically being given the keys to the attack. He was everywhere for the team, driving them forward at every opportunity. Whether he was winning fouls in front of goal, dribbling past numerous defenders or playing throughballs to his fellow attackers, he seemed to do very little wrong on the night. His performance can only give everyone around the club optimism that he is in fact “a dude” the team can build the attack around.
- Once Josef Martinez entered the picture halfway through the second half the dynamic of the match shifted heavily in favor of the Five Stripes. While he wasn’t able to get on the end of any chances, he did play a part in the equalizing goal. His mere presence in the box attracted tons of attention, enough for Brooks Lennon to have plenty of space to pick out Ronald Hernandez with a pass for a great finish. Once Josef regains his fitness and can start combining with an in-form Marcie, it could be exactly what this Atlanta attack has been in dire need of for over 18 months.
- I want to end this column with a bit of a personal plea. Seeing fans turn out last weekend to basically protest the treatment of Josef Martinez by Gabriel Heinze was a pleasure to see. When things are bad it’s the supporters job to voice their anger. Those boos and paper bags clearly worked as Gabriel Heinze was sent packing less than 24 hours later. You the supporters have a massive impact on this club, whether it’s positive or negative. We are all aware that things aren’t going great right now and some massive mistakes have been made at a high level. However, the players out on the field are clearly putting their heart and souls into turning this season around. This performance is proof that this team has the quality to start charging up the standings and make the playoffs. The players and interim staff need the fans behind them now more than ever to give them that extra motivation. There’s a time and place to show your disapproval. But there’s also a time to rally around the team and be that inspiring force behind them and I feel that time should be now.