Chances. That was the word that defined much of 2022 for Atlanta United. It was fantastic at creating chances, but it wasn’t that great at finishing them off. In the season opener against San Jose, it looked as if it would be the same story all over again until Thiago Almada bailed the Five Stripes out with two stoppage-time goals to win it all.
Against Toronto FC, Atlanta had to settle for a 1-1 draw after attacking for 95% of the match and being unable to put away several good chances.
But something was different last Saturday at Charlotte FC. The attacking spark actually bore fruit and the fans were treated to a commanding 3-0 win in the first road match of the season.
On Tuesday, we looked at how the Five Stripes earned their first clean sheet of the season. Today, we’ll analyze the plays that led to the three goals that secured three points against a regional rival.
Atlanta United Goal - Caleb Wiley 4’
This goal actually starts with Charlotte in possession after recovering the ball from an Atlanta goal kick. After the hosts won a series of aerial duels, Kamil Jozwiak starts to carry the ball toward the far touchline.
Luiz Araújo and Brooks Lennon catch up to Jozwiak and close him down fast (red arrows). The Polish winger’s only choice is to turn around and pass back for Ashley Westwood or Brandt Bronico (blue arrow)
Bronico now finds himself in a bit of a pickle. He’s on the touchline, so he can’t go backward. All of his passing options are tightly marked (purple circles) and Araújo is quickly closing in. In an attempt to bail out his teammate, Jozwiak makes a backward run (yellow arrow) and Bronico plays the ball into the space ahead of him (blue arrow). Meanwhile, Amar Sejdic quickly pressures him from behind...
... before putting in a beautiful tackle. The ball then falls for Thiago Almada who starts sprinting toward Charlotte’s goal.
Remember how one of the takeaways from last week’s attacking analysis was that Atlanta could take advantage of the fact that defenders will focus on closing down the more dangerous attacking talent which could then open windows for some of the more overlooked players to make an impact? We’re seeing that come into play right here.
Almada is on a fast break and Charlotte knows how dangerous he can be. All of Charlotte’s defenders shift over to get in the Argentine’s way (red arrows). The only options the Charlotte defenders see are either he will continue and try to dribble through them or play it to Araújo (dotted blue arrow), but they completely neglect Caleb Wiley making a run to the center of the box (yellow arrow)...
... Almada makes the pass and it’s an easy 1v1 for the 18-year-old homegrown who finishes nicely to put the Five Stripes ahead early in the game.
- I know this post is supposed to be about the attack, but look at how effective a well-executed press can be. This play is a result of Atlanta United’s players isolating the player with the ball and cutting off all of his passing options. The intense pressure then forces the opponent to make a mistake, force a turnover and suddenly there’s a counterattacking opportunity. This sort of aggressive high-pressing is reminiscent of Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp’s trademark “gegenpress” (counter-press) that has led the Reds to be so successful under the German manager.
- Almada is a dangerous player. Not just because of his individual skill or his ability to score goals from long-range, but because he draws defenders toward him and opens space for teammates to get into prime scoring positions. When a team has this kind of player, it can be difficult for defenders to figure out exactly how to deal with them. This is where players like Araújo, Wiley, Derrick Etienne Jr and Giorgos Giakoumakis can greatly benefit from the chaos and finish with less pressure to worry about.
- I’m excited about Wiley. He’s fast, he’s young and he has tons of potential which I’m sure we’ll continue to see throughout the season. It’s good to see that the club’s youth academies are producing exciting talent.
Atlanta United Goal - Luiz Araújo 11’
The Five Stripes’ second goal of the day started from a free throw in Charlotte’s half. Andrew Gutman throws the ball in for Caleb Wiley who dribbles a bit and finds himself in an interesting position.
The youngster has a choice to make: does he continue dribbling toward goal (dotted blue arrow) and risk getting closed down by Bill Tuiloma and Bronico (red arrows) OR does he play the ball to the other side of the box for Araújo (solid blue arrow) who has space ahead of him (yellow arrow)? The Atlanta native opts for the latter.
Araújo now just has to do what he does best - dribble excessively with the ball and get a shot off (blue arrow). And that’s exactly what he’s going to do, but in the meantime, let’s see what’s going on around him. Wiley is making a run behind Araújo (yellow arrow) to offer support. Nathan Byrne is marking Miguel Berry (purple circle), so that takes an option away from the attack. Charlotte is outnumbering Atlanta about 4-2 in this play, but it’s what some of those four are doing that makes it too easy for the Brazilian winger to get his shot away.
Bronico is doing his best to hold Araújo off until his teammates can arrive to help. That help is supposed to arrive in the form of either Derrick Jones (dotted red arrow) or Bill Tuiloma. Tuiloma thinks Jones is going to hustle and help Bronico take on Araújo, so the New Zealander continues into the box (solid red arrow) in case Araújo dribbles past Bronico or tries to get a shot off. The problem? Jones is so slow to close Araújo down that he doesn’t get there in time...
... Araújo beats Bronico and opens up enough space...
... to get his shot away to Pablo Sisniega’s near post. The goal, very reminiscent of Federico Bernardeschi’s goal against Atlanta United a week prior, doubled the Five Stripes’ lead and put them in a great spot to earn all three points on the road.
- So... I guess Araújo really can score. His preseason form was so hot that it was just baffling how he could be so lackluster once the regular season started. Hopefully, this goal is a sign that he just had a couple of bad weeks to start the campaign and that he’ll be finding the net more frequently.
- We just talked about Wiley being an exciting prospect and this play showed yet another aspect of him that’s developing well. The vision he had to pick out the pass to Araújo and recognize that his teammate was in a better position to advance the ball and potentially score is a valuable skill. Too often we have seen players who want to be the hero and take on all of the opposing defenders on their own only to be quickly dispossessed. This is a good sign for him and a great indicator of the team building chemistry and understanding with each other on the field.
- Not to take anything from Atlanta’s attacking, but Charlotte’s defense was very poor. They were too slow to close down players in menacing positions, their lack of communication was evident in their sloppy and disorganized defending and their lack of awareness to see that they were giving an attacker like Araújo so much time and space to take his shot. Full credit to Atlanta for exploiting their opponent’s weak points and getting a much-deserved result, but woeful defending on Charlotte’s part.
Atlanta United Goal - Caleb Wiley 46’
The final goal of the match came as a result of playing out from the back.
Miles Robinson carries the ball out from Atlanta’s 18-yard box with Andre Shinyashiki coming in hot on his left (red arrow). Robinson has several options, but he sees that the best pass would be a piercing through ball to Almada in midfield (dotted blue arrow). He knows he needs to find the right angle, though, so he jogs over to the right (solid blue arrow).
Robinson gets his opening right on time as Shinyashiki is breathing down his neck. Without hesitation, the USMNT center back plays a great ball to Almada (blue arrow).
The Argentine World Champion is off to the races. Bronico charges him to try and recover the ball (blue arrow), but Almada calmly maneuvers past him (red arrow). Keep an eye on Wiley (circled in purple), he’s making a run in anticipation of a long ball from Almada, but he’s about to get something better.
Almada now has time and space to evaluate his options. He could attempt a through ball (dotted purple arrow) straight ahead for Berry who is starting to make his run (solid purple arrow), but he has Tuiloma circling behind him to cut off the pass (red arrow), so probably not a safe bet. He could try a long, overhead ball to Wiley (dotted yellow arrow), but he would really need to get it spot-on to avoid Byrne intercepting it (red x). Instead, Almada goes for the safest option that still creates a good attacking opportunity: sending the ball into the path of Araújo (blue arrow) on the right side.
Araújo now has incoming pressure from two Charlotte defenders, so he needs to make a decision fast. He has Berry making a run toward the space on the right of the box (yellow arrow), but he’s being tailed by Tuiloma (red arrow). Fortunately, Araújo sees that Tuiloma’s movement has opened up room for Almada to run into the heart of the 18-yard box and be in a prime position to score (dotted blue arrow) with only Byrne (circled in purple) and the keeper to beat. Araújo sends in the pass (solid blue arrow)...
... which finds Almada who managed to get in front of Byrne. But Almada knows that he isn’t in a great position to shoot the ball. He could try to first-time it with his non-dominant left foot, but the shot would probably go wide or be saved by Sisniega. However, he does know who is in a perfect place to finish comfortably...
... so he lets the ball roll past him to Wiley...
... who couldn’t have had an easier finish. The goal secured a three-goal lead for the Five Stripes and capped off a very good bit of link-up play among the players.
- Good on Robinson for not taking the easy way out and just making a safe pass. He saw the opportunity for a penetrative pass and he took it. In the previous post, we talked about the attackers being the first line of defense in Total Football. Well, the inverse is also true: the attack starts with the goalkeeper and the defenders drawing the opponent out of their own half and exploiting the gaps they leave behind. Robinson does this well and he’s able to start an attack that results in a goal.
- Thiago Almada... need I say anything more?
- Wiley once again does well to be in the box ready to fire if the ball gets to him. He knows where the space is, which allows him to be in the right place to put this one home. Hopefully, he can build on this performance and have another great game against Portland tomorrow.