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Roll the Tape: Analyzing Atlanta United’s attacking against Toronto FC

Rossetto TAKES SHOTS, Guzan gives us heart attacks and Tanky McTankface makes his grand debut

SOCCER: MAR 04 MLS - Atlanta United FC vs Toronto FC Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to part two of this week’s Roll the Tape, where we analyze the action from Atlanta United’s last match in STUNNING 4K!!!

Ok, you got me. It’s not exactly 4K. Pretty close though...

Last time, we talked about the Five Stripes’ defense. This time, we’ll be diving into how Atlanta did on the attack. Let’s dive into the first play we’ll be analyzing.

Big Chance - Atlanta United 34’

This was one of the many chances that the Five Stripes created during the first half. It started back with goalkeeper Brad Guzan after receiving a back pass from Luiz Araújo.


Ahem, sorry about that. I lost my cool there for a second. Guzan is put under heavy pressure by Federico Bernardeschi and Adama Diomande. Fortunately, he has the space to get a lobbed ball out to the flank where Andrew Gutman is open and waiting (blue arrow). Phew!

Alright, Gutman has received the ball with plenty of space on the flank. One choice for him in this position would be to start running up the field and exploiting the space in front of him (dotted blue arrow). He won’t get all the way across, because Michael Bradley and Richie Laryea are out of frame to cut him off, but he could at least pick up the pace of the attacking transition. Gutman doesn’t do that, though, and starts receiving pressure from Brandon Servania (red arrow). To keep the attacking momentum going, he passes back to Thiago Almada (solid blue arrow) who runs into the space vacated by Servania to receive the ball (yellow arrow).

Then Almada sends a very good switch of play to Araújo on the near touchline (blue arrow). The 26-year-old Brazilian carries the ball forward a few yards before pumping the brakes and passing to Franco Ibarra close to the midfield circle.

From here, Ibarra has some options: he could attempt a ball into Gutman who’s making a diagonal run behind Almada (dotted yellow arrow) - a risky option considering the small space he has to land that pass - or go for the safer option of passing to Almada (blue arrow) who would then have to deal with Servania’s pressure (red arrow) - something a talented dribbler such as Almada can deal with easily. Franco chooses to pass to his Argentine compatriot

Almada gets away from Servania’s mark and sees Caleb Wiley open in front of him. He plays a pass to the 18-year-old homegrown (solid blue arrow) who makes a run toward the edge of the box (dotted yellow arrow) under pressure by Laryea (solid red arrow).

Wiley does really well to beat Laryea, and looks for Miguel Berry inside the box (dotted blue arrow). Unfortunately, his low cross doesn’t have the right direction on it and actually ends up a couple of yards behind its intended target (solid blue arrow) and is found by Mark-Anthony Kaye (red arrow) who goes to clear it. Matheus Rossetto sees what’s happening and gets closer to the box in case a rebound makes its way to him (spoiler alert, it does).

Looking at this frame, you may be wondering why Almada (circled in purple) would just stay back where he is instead of trying to get near the box seeing as he’s so good from distance. That’s because so many of his teammates are forward, that he needs to stay back to cover for them in case Toronto starts a quick counterattack.

Kaye’s clearance isn’t good and it’s recovered by Rossetto who fires a shot on goal to force a save out of Sean Johnson (solid blue arrow). The rebound from the shot goes to the left of the goal (dotted yellow arrow) where Laryea rushes to pick it up (solid red arrow) as Wiley and Berry rush to win it back (dotted blue arrows). The pair succeed and manage to pass it back to Thiago Almada, who’s currently out of frame but is right around where that purple arrow is pointing.

Almada gets close to the box and tries a shot from distance, but the result is a low-driven shot (solid blue arrow) that bounces off Berry (underlined in purple) and is recovered by the Toronto defense.

I believe more could’ve come out of this play. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but the fact that Almada was able to get the ball to Berry means that he could’ve played a through ball to the Spanish striker. From there, he would then be able to either get a shot off or move the ball toward the end line (dotted yellow arrow) and draw a defender toward him (solid red arrow) to open space for a deadly cutback to Araújo (circled in yellow).


  • I know Almada has scored them from outside the box before, but the team can’t solely rely on long-range shots to score. They need to be more creative in the final third because then they’ll find themselves in better scoring positions which will make it easier for them to put the ball in the back of the net.
  • The crossing needs to be better. I know Wiley was in an uncomfortable position in this particular instance, but there were at least a couple of times where he’d receive the ball on the flank, use his speed to get space and then play a bad cross that was either easily cleared or just flew harmlessly overhead. And it isn’t just Wiley either, Brooks Lennon’s crossing on the other side hasn’t been that much better. I get it’s only the beginning of the season, but this has to get sorted fast if the team’s main method of chance creation is going to be sending crosses into the box.
  • I think this team could seriously benefit from cranking up the pace of attacking transitions. I know it’s sort of cliché at this point to compare the current team to the 2017-18 squad, but many of the chances from back in the day came from good ol’ fashioned quick counterattacks. Too often do the players receive the ball with space and prefer to stand there and let the opposition get numbers back. I respect a team that prefers a slower approach to build-up play, but you can’t pass up the chance to run at an exposed backline.

Atlanta United Goal - Rossetto 59’

Now, I’m sure people in the comments will argue with me about where exactly the play for this goal starts, but there’s no doubt this time around...

... it starts with a Tank entering the game. All of Toronto trembles as Giorgos Giakoumakis takes his first steps onto an MLS pitch.

From there, the team’s confidence takes a big boost.

Fast forward about a minute and you get this position:

Here we see Juanjo Purata lay the ball off to Miles Robinson (blue arrow) in the middle of the field. Toronto is ahead, so their plan is simply to bunker in and counter when they get the chance. Because of this, they pull their numbers back and do their best to gain numerical advantages in the middle. However, by doing so, they sacrifice their presence on the wings. Atlanta is getting ready to exploit that.

Standing just in front of the far touchline is Lennon (circled in yellow) who’s in a great position to make a run deep into enemy territory. Just look at all the green space he has ahead of him (yellow arrow).

I think it’s also worth mentioning what’s happening on the other side. Ibarra (circled in purple) is out wide as if he were a fullback. Why? Because Andrew Gutman (circled in red) had gone upfield to attack just a few moments ago and Ibarra was (correctly) covering for his teammate while he got back.

This does two things: first, it allows Purata another passing option that opens up the field and forces Toronto to stretch itself and create openings. Second, if Atlanta loses possession, Ibarra would be in a position to allow the backline to maintain its shape.

Keen-eyed readers will note one key player missing in this picture: Derrick Etienne Jr. He’s currently out of frame a few yards ahead of where the solid red arrow is pointing. From this position, he allows Atlanta to further stretch the field by becoming an interesting target for a pass. From that wide position, he can dribble and cut in to shoot, put in a cross or hold up play to give his teammates time to get in the box.

Robinson turns and sees Lennon making a run along the far touchline, so he plays him in (solid blue arrow). Lennon will take this to the edge of the 18-yard box (dotted blue arrow) while Jonathan Osorio, now seeing the play developing, moves to intercept him (red arrow). Notice how most of Toronto’s players are starting to shift more toward the side Atlanta is attacking (yellow arrows). While this may seem like an obvious and instinctual thing to do, this kind of defensive overload on one side of the pitch can leave you VERY vulnerable to switches of play and/or far post crosses (spoiler alert).

I know I just criticized Lennon’s crossing in the previous section, but I think this cross was placed perfectly. Atlanta is outnumbered 4-1 in Toronto’s box (about to become 6-4 when Almada, Araújo, Etienne, Bradley and Servania get in) and the players in the box aren’t the tallest on the field, so it’s no use trying to get them to head it in. Instead, Lennon sees Etienne with space and plays a fantastic ball over to him (blue arrow). Keep an eye on Matheus Rossetto (circled in yellow), he’s going to be somewhat important in a second.

Etienne passes the ball first time to Almada (blue arrow) who steps out a bit to meet it (solid yellow arrow). Seeing the chance developing, Araújo makes a dangerous run (dotted yellow arrow) as Giorgos Giakoumakis makes another run in the other direction (dotted purple arrow) to give the Argentine some options. Unfortunately, everyone now knows how dangerous Almada can be, so about half of this TFC squad is going to close down the World Cup Champion before he can get a shot away. It’s a good thing there’s another option...

... just lay it off for Rossetto (blue arrow) who gives it a good whack and it ends up in the back of the net after deflecting off Kaye and Matt Hedges (yellow arrow).

I would also like to point out that Giakoumakis was constantly moving throughout this play. When he was in the box, he was moving to get himself open and when he saw the shot, he tried to get in an ideal position to put away a potential rebound. That’s where you start to see his poacher instincts come into play, a very good sign that he’ll likely be scoring very soon.


  • Atlanta United loves to play wide. The majority of their chances in this game originated from the wings and they certainly have talented players that play on either side. It’s just a matter of getting the passes in the final third right. In this play, all of the passes were really good and the end product is proof of that.
  • Off-the-ball movement from forward players is important when attacking in soccer, especially in and around the box. In this play, we saw a lot of that movement: Etienne’s run to receive Lennon’s cross, Almada’s dropping back to get Etienne’s pass, and Araújo and Giakoumakis’ runs inside the box. This is a good thing and begins to show how dangerous this team’s attack can be when all of the pieces are on the field.
  • Dark horses on the pitch can present great opportunities to exploit. What do I mean by that? Going into this match, it’s almost certain that Toronto was studying the film on Atlanta’s key attacking talent: Almada, Araújo, Etienne and Giakoumakis. Much of the strategy for them must’ve been to keep those players in particular under intense pressure (and you could see that when no less than FIVE of TFC’s players closed down Almada inside the box). Do you know who they weren’t focusing on too heavily? Matheus Rossetto. That’s how he got the space for the shot. I mean, just go back and look at how much quicker Bradley is to close down Almada than Kaye is to close down Rossetto. Of course, the designated player attackers are the main attractions for production on offense, but the more overlooked players can actually have a much more significant impact than one might think at first glance.

Well, I was planning to analyze one more play, but I didn’t anticipate this post getting so long. I’ll try to make things fit a bit better next time. If any of you are planning to go to the game, I hope you enjoy it!

Let me know what you think of this breakdown in the comments below!