Actually, this was the near perfect game
Last week after a 1-1 draw, Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda called the performance “close to perfection,” a bit of a head scratcher considering the result and some of the underlying metrics left something to be desired. This was the ear perfect game. The Five Stripes dominated in so many aspects, it left the second half feeling rather sleepy as the team salted away the 90 minutes after building up a comfortable 3-0 halftime lead. It was only “near” perfect because of some isolated moments of indecision at the back (Brad Guzan’s command of the box, Purata with a near own goal, some near penalties, etc). But overall, you can’t commend the performance of the players and Pineda’s tactics enough. It was a game that proved Atlanta has more than enough talent to compete at the top end of the league, so long as they don’t hurt themselves.
Gonzalo Pineda will have a selection headache next week
When the Five Stripes return home to Mercedes-Benz Stadium next week against Portland, the manager will have some tough decisions to make. Derrick Etienne has looked stronger and stronger every week, but after two goals and an assist from Caleb Wiley on the left wing, how can you possibly relegate him to the bench? Amar Sejdic looked very sharp in midfield and helped contribute to a team pressing performance we haven’t seen in some time. If Rossetto is fit, who starts? What about the team’s marquee center back signing in Luis Abram? Miles Robinson and Juanjo Purata have hardly put a foot wrong this season. Suddenly, there’s a lot more depth to this team than it appeared just a few weeks ago.
Thiago Almada is unsurprisingly playing his best soccer now that Marcelino Moreno is gone
Apple commentator Taylor Twellman brought this up late in the first half of Saturday’s game, but maybe addition by subtraction really is a thing? Almada has noticeably more space to operate this season — particularly on the counter attack — and the entire team is better off for it. An Almada in space is more dangerous than an Almada with a fellow midfielder coming near him asking for the ball at his feet. Almada in space has many more options to either distribute or take defenders on the dribble, and teammates who are stretching the field making penetrating runs give opposition players a lot more to think about and ground to cover. All of this was clearly on display in the first half — something the team will certainly look to replicate on a regular basis this season.
An important goal for Luiz Araujo
After two weeks of pure frustration for Atlanta United’s DP winger after missing a penalty 30 minutes into the new season, Araujo’s first half goal Saturday against Charlotte feels like an important stepping stone toward getting the Brazilian going at his confident best. Araujo was excellent all game off the ball and help Atlanta sustain it’s pressure and stunt Charlotte’s build up. But while that is very important, everyone knows that Araujo needs to be feeling the right type of way if he is going to contribute the goals this team will need from him over the course of the season.
Make no mistake, Atlanta won with defense and work rate
Saturday showed a clear gulf in technical quality between Atlanta and Charlotte. And while it might not always be this stark of a contrast, Atlanta is probably going to have an edge in this area in most games they play. But you can argue that was the case last year too, when the team slumped to a finish leaving them outside of the playoffs. Because for this team, it’s never been about proving it’s the more skillful team. For years, Atlanta has beaten itself with costly mistakes — self inflected wounds that no amount of technical skill can make up for.
But it’s not just the clean sheet where this comes into play, defense and work rate were key in helping to create each of Atlanta’s three goals. Two came off of direct pressure, and one came after winning the ball in a defensive posture that set up a beautiful counter attack.
Frankly, this is the kind of game it would’ve lost last year. The team only won two of it’s seventeen road games in 2022. That’s inexcusable, but Saturday’s showing is a positive step in reversing that trend. And if they do, this team will be a top four team in the Eastern Conference.