While it’s quite early in the 2022 MLS season, Atlanta United is having some early results go the team’s way. The team opened the year stomping Sporting Kansas City, getting stomped by Colorado, snatching a late win from Charlotte, scoring three goals from outside the box to draw Montreal, and then snatching a late win from DC United.
It’s a good start to the year, but aside from the SKC game, scoring from hopeful chances outside of the box and getting improbably late winners is not exactly a consistent foundation for building success. Still, points are points and 3-1-1 is a decent record.
That said, there are more challenges to overcome this week that may become common themes for the rest of the season. Josef Martinez had his knee looked at in Pittsburgh because it doesn’t feel right, the backup striker is Dom Dwyer, and Ozzie Alonso is out for the year with a torn ACL.
Going into the year, it seemed like the big question for Atlanta United would be: what does this team need to do in order to get consistent results, beat good teams, strike fear into the heart of the league, and maybe even be fun to watch again? So far the answer has been: that’s going to be tougher than we thought, the expensive winger we got last year hurt his hamstring, a 36 year-old guy was the only thing holding the midfield together, and Dom Dwyer is the backup striker.
At least the Sounders dealt with this quite a lot when Gonzalo Pineda was there. This was best on display the time they came to Atlanta and “killed soccer,” as the 2018 game after the World Cup final is known in Seattle apparently, and still almost made it to the MLS Cup to end the season. To some extent, teams also make their own luck so perhaps Pineda can get a lot of mileage out of the situation the team finds itself in right now.
Charlotte FC - the Nebraska of MLS
What if MLS decided to put a franchise in Nebraska? Luckily we don’t have to answer that question because there’s a team in Charlotte, a city that is basically a giant corn or wheat farm or whatever they grow in Nebraska but with banks instead of crops.
So far this year, Charlotte has been just about exactly what it seemed like a team whose manager described their roster situation before the first game of the season as being “jodidos.” The team has four losses, two wins, has allowed 12 goals and scored seven. They’ve shown that they can beat teams that are bad, like Cincinnati, or complete phonies, like New England, so Atlanta still needs to be cautious.
The best player on the roster is Karol Swiderski who was too injured to play in World Cup qualifying over the international break but not too injured to play against Philly over the international break, much to the dismay of the Polish National Team.
Wiadomość, którą dostaliśmy od lekarza Charlotte FC w miniony poniedziałek pic.twitter.com/G7LNv0dH6N— Jakub Kwiatkowski (@KwiatkowskiKuba) March 26, 2022
At least they don’t have five designated players on the roster!
In their last match Charlotte lined up in a 5-4-1 against Philly... and gave up two goals, so the defensive formation didn’t work so well. That said, the team does have no. 1 overall MLS Super Draft pick Ben Bender, Anton Walkes is getting back to health for the team and it’s also neat that Christian Fuchs is on the roster. Cool.
The team will no doubt be out for revenge after being savagely owned by Trainy McTrainface when the Atlanta United mascot was announced earlier this month, and Charlotte will want to show that their early win against New England wasn’t just a case of beating a fraudulent team on a bad day.
Atlanta United - Already counting on depth in week six
Admittedly I missed the DC United game, but I could feel the vibes - they were low-frequency vibes. Obviously, the two big things to come from the game was the injury to Alonso and the feeling that Josef got in his knee that sent him to Pittsburgh. The most positive thing was that Atlanta did what it needed to do in order to have a chance to win. That chance came on a late goal from Marcie Moreno on an effort that illustrated why Bill Hamid never established himself as the USMNT no. 1 keeper.
If Atlanta doesn’t want to be in a position where the result of the game rests in hoping something good happens at the end of the game or some sort of improbable number of goals being scored from outside of the box, the key area of the field will be the spot that had been anchored by Alonso. Whoever Pineda selects to start in the no. 6 role will determine how successful Atlanta is at turning possession into chances, and breaking up the Charlotte attack.
The other key will be making runs into the box. The box is where the goal is, making runs into it helps score goals. If players make runs into the box, they can do movement in the box and disrupt the defenders and create chaos in the zone of uncertainty. In short, launching long hopeful shots from distance won’t do that and through balls and crosses can only be sent in to players that have gotten into the box somehow.
Failing that, Atlanta United has shown that it can at least stay in games and tap into the grit, determination and luck to get a result even when that seems unlikely.