Atlanta United marked their return from international break with a 2-0 win over Inter Miami at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday. It was a much-needed victory for the Five Stripes at home over an opponent who simply was second best throughout the full 90 minutes. The result was just their second win since April 4th, bringing their season record to 5-4-5. Here are a few thoughts on an encouraging day in the ATL.
Josef is back and looks ... decent
By far the most encouraging bit of news surrounding the Atlanta United world over the past week is the progress of Josef Martinez. Not only did the club’s iconic talisman start, score and play 45 minutes in the mid-week friendly win over Pachuca, he came back and started in this match — while playing the duration — and looked the best he’s looked in quite a while. For those hoping or expecting to see 2017-2019 Josef making his way back onto the field, you’re probably going to be waiting indefinitely. But the good news is the Venezuelan Viper is beginning to look like a dangerous attacking threat up top again. His overall movement since coming back from his unknown follow-up procedure on his knee is highly encouraging. While he’s not zooming around the field with reckless abandon, he definitely looks a lot more confident on his knee than he did at the beginning of the season.
Even though he’s fair from reaching his top form, even having a competent Josef on the field is a game-changer. The attention he attracts is more than enough to make an impact on the game as his goal and assist against Miami proves. If he can consistently stay on the field and slowly but surely regain his form, it would give Atlanta United’s playoff chances a massive boost.
The Kids are Alright
With the host of injuries still plaguing the club, depth is being tested all over the field. Three young players got their chance to shine against Miami and all three impressed significantly. The most notable is George Campbell at centerback. After having a nightmare performance down in Miami, this was a redemption game for the young American. He was sensational all match, looking confident and dominant any time he was called on to make a defensive play or play out of pressure. This is proof that while he has had some ups and downs in his short career, he possesses some immense potential.
Fellow teenage backline-mate Caleb Wiley got a chance to start at left back and once again showed why he’s so highly touted by talent evaluators. He had very little work to do defensively, but it’s in the attack where he really adds a new dynamic to the team. His pace and directness causes huge problems for the opposing team any time he has the freedom to run at defenders. He caused Miami headaches all game and it was his inverted cut-in shot on goal that helped lead to Josef’s insurance goal in the second half. You cannot help but salivate at the prospect of seeing him get more and more minutes to develop with this team.
The final shoutout has to go to Franco Ibarra. It was undoubtedly his best performance as an Atlanta United player. While he wasn’t contested a ton in the midfield due to Atlanta having a man advantage for nearly an hour, it was his composure and ability to do the little things like linking up play that really stood out. We all know he’s a bundle of energy and intensity. If he can add simple things like composure and picking out the right passes, he could be on his way to becoming an important player for the team.
On The Edge
Winning is great, but there still feels like there’s a little something missing from the Atlanta United attacking game. Taylor Twellman summed it up really well on the ESPN broadcast when he pointed out how frustrating it can be watching this team attack. With so many talented players all over the field, there’s always some moment, be it a pass, touch or decision that lets them down. It really feels like they are extremely close to putting it all together and becoming an attacking juggernaut. It’s just a matter of finding that extra bit of confidence and composure to make the right decisions when it matters. Luiz Araujo and Marcelino Moreno both have a bit of magic in their locker whenever they need it. They showed it several times in this match. But they both need to do better at linking with the players around them and saving that something special for the right moments. Once they start doing that, it should lead to a lot more positive results.