Atlanta United hung on for a 1-0 win over Toronto FC on Wednesday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to extend their winning streak to three matches. A star-studded, extremely attack-minded lineup was trotted out by interim manager Rob Valentino and started off lively, but something didn’t quite click on the night. By the end of the 90 minutes the Five Stripes were fighting tooth and nail to secure full points. Here are a few thoughts on a necessary result earned by a less-than-inspiring performance.
- “I’m glad we won the game. I’m just glad we won.” — Rob Valentino’s mood throughout the night on Wednesday perfectly encapsulates the feelings of pretty much everyone around the Atlanta United space. While getting the victory and moving within three points of the seventh playoff spot in the East was a huge result, how the team go there left much to be desired. This was a very weird match because on paper it was a solid attacking showing. OPTA has Atlanta at a respectable 1.20 Expected Goals total, however it never really felt like the team gelled and got on the same page to create dangerous chances. Perhaps the 21 total shot attempts helps boost that xG total some, but there were never really any clear cut chances carved out. This doesn’t mean we should be worried or angry, it’s just the truth. Valentino selected an extraordinarily attacking lineup with only Santiago Sosa as a recognized defensive-minded midfielder. Still, with all the firepower on the field, it just never really clicked into gear. There are plenty of factors at play such as introducing a new attacker into the fold, playing on short rest in August heat, and so on. The fact is, the attacking play is going to need to improve as the season goes on if this dream comeback is going to have a storybook ending.
- New Designated Player Luiz Araujo made his full debut right away, being inserted into the starting lineup alongside the likes of Josef Martinez, Marcelino Moreno, and Ezequiel Barco. First impressions of the Brazilian are intriguing. He’s clearly got the ability to pull off some special things on the field. He’s very direct and eager to make an impact as well. Valentino decided to deploy him on the left side of the formation in what can only be described as some sort of funky 5-1-4 type of look. Araujo dropped deeper than expected in the midfield at times but spent most of his time tucked into the halfspace to allow Brooks Lennon to overlap him. While he didn’t do anything eye-popping in his debut, he certainly looks like he’ll fit in nicely once there’s a more stabilized formation decided upon.
- There’s really not much to take away from this match other than it’s a great result to get the win. I had folks telling me two weeks ago that the season was lost and now the team is just three points out of a playoff spot with a ton of matches remaining. At this point it would be a severe disappointment if they don’t at least crack the Top 7 by season’s end. In reality, with the talent and momentum currently in place, they should be pushing for a seed that allows them to host at least one home match in the playoffs. It’s a long season and Atlanta United seems to finally be hitting their stride at just the right time.