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Roll the Tape: Breaking down Atlanta United’s 1-1 draw to NYCFC

A closer look at some crucial moments in a very tight and intense game

MLS: Atlanta United FC at New York City FC Mark Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United managed a very good point on the road to New York City FC Saturday despite going down to 10 men with over 20 minutes left to play. The result may not have been a home run, but there were a few things to learn from the game. What? No more baseball puns? Fine, I wouldn’t want to strike out with you, the readers. Sorry, moving on.

Today we’re going to be looking at a couple of defensive instances as well as one attacking play to breakdown what Atlanta United did well and what it can improve on. Grab your peanuts and crackerjacks, because it’s time to play ball the tape!

Big Chance - New York City FC 32’

Santiago Rodriguez runs with the ball down the far touch line (blue arrow) before being cut off by Brooks Lennon (red arrow). We’ve talked before about the advantage that defenders have when an attacker is up against the touch line and we’re seeing that come into play here. As long as Lennon stays in front of Rodriguez, he is forced to wait for support because there’s no more room for him to run away.

I also want to point out that both center backs and the opposite side fullback have a pretty good structure here as they make their way back into the box (yellow line). The only thing that worries me is Matias Pellegrini (circled in purple) having so much space on the left, but he doesn’t end up impacting the play, so I guess we can let it slide this once.

Rodriguez finds the support he’s looking for in the form of Talles Magno, who runs toward the touch line behind Lennon (solid yellow arrow). Rodriguez sees him and makes a really good pass along the touch line (blue arrow) that’s picked up by Magno before he takes it to the edge of the box.

Now, a few key things are happening in this frame. First, Franco Ibarra is getting back to help defensively (dotted yellow arrow) and anyone watching the replay might’ve noticed that Magno just ran past Ibarra to get the ball and wonder why the Argentine didn’t stay with Magno. Ibarra isn’t a fast player and certainly not fast enough to catch Magno. It wouldn’t be practical to have Ibarra try to win a race he will never win in a million years. Instead, Miles Robinson steps up to get in Magno’s way (red arrow) and Ibarra immediately sees this and takes it as his cue to continue running into the box to defend (dotted yellow arrow).

Of course, Gabriel Segal (underlined in purple) is also getting ready to find space inside the box to shoot (purple arrow). He’ll come into play a little later.

Magno sees an opportunity developing as Segal is in a good position to get a shot off. He fires a low, driven pass (blue arrow) and Juanjo Purata steps up to make the shot as uncomfortable as possible for Segal (red arrow).

Segal first times a shot (blue arrow) that doesn’t carry a lot of power, but does bounce a bit making it a challenging save.

Note that the two players who will be closest to the rebound are going to be Wiley and Pellegrini, but Wiley has about a 2-3 yard cushion (dotted yellow line) on Pellegrini that would just allow him to get there first (solid yellow arrow).

Brad Guzan makes the save and sends the ball across the goal (blue arrow). Wiley (red arrow) and Pellegrini (yellow arrow) race to retrieve it…

… but Wiley gets there first and manages to get it clear (blue arrow).


  • Brad Guzan is superhuman. The man made a really good save that required a fast reaction AND the ability to get down to a bouncing ball quick enough WHILE ALSO playing with a torn MCL. All at the tender age of 38. Needless to say, Atlanta United are going to miss him. Not just because of his goalkeeping, but because of the leadership and experience he brings to this team.
  • Good on Caleb Wiley for staying alert inside the box and getting to the rebound first. I may have criticized Wiley’s defensive performance a couple of times in the past, but I have to admit that he actually did a pretty solid job in this game and the last. His pace is such a valuable trait that allows him to get back quickly, cover ground more efficiently and win more 50/50s. Aside from his pace, he also positioned himself in a really good place to ensure he beat Pellegrini to the ball. Good on you, Caleb!

New York City FC Goal - Gabriel Pereira 72’

Last season, Atlanta United conceding right after scoring was a very frequent sight. That’s exactly what happened in this game and it ended up being the difference between one point and three.

The action starts with Maxime Chanot close to the halfway line looking for ways to progress the play. Atlanta United, down a man and a goal ahead with 20 minutes to go, is setting itself defensively to make it much harder for NYCFC to play through them. Atlanta’s posture looks much like a 4-4-1 with a midfield consisting of Santiago Sosa in the six role, Matheus Rossetto in the more advanced eight role, Luis Araújo dropping back and tucking in slightly on the right and Thiago Almada shifted to the left almost as a left midfielder.

Right now, Atlanta is actually in a very solid position to defend the play. Chanot’s passing options are limited nearby. Passing to Thiago Martins doesn’t accomplish much and passing to Alfredo Morales would likely see him closed down quickly by Giorgios Giakoumakis (dotted yellow arrow) and force him to pass back. Keaton Parks would have both Giakoumakis and an advanced Rossetto to deal with (dotted red arrows), so Chanot needs to go long.

Here’s the thing, though: everyone behind this midfield line is well marked. Matias Pellegrini (circled in yellow) realizes this, makes a forward run to get open and calls for the ball. Chanot sees his teammate’s run and rewards it with a really good ball over the top (blue arrow).

As the ball comes down to Pellegrini, we see that Caleb Wiley has stepped up to close him down with Almada on the other side to support (red arrows). Gabriel Pereira is being marked by Sosa, but he has the advantage of having space ahead of him. He uses that and makes a run (solid blue arrow) to receive the ball from Pellegrini. Sosa, rather than staying with his man, breaks off his mark to pressure Pellegrini (yellow arrow). This allows Pellegrini to simply head the ball into the run of Pereira (dotted blue arrow) who now has more time to make up his mind.

Pereira is now approaching the edge of the box (blue arrow) with Wiley (red arrow) and Sosa (underlined in yellow) on his tail. The only two defenders ahead of Pereira are Juanjo Purata (circled in purple) and Miles Robinson. Purata, being the left-sided center back, has the responsibility of staying in front of Pereira and taking him on so that he doesn’t have the space for a shot. At first, he actually does a good job of this…

… but then Purata (circled in red) seems to end up flat-footed for a second, allowing Pereira to get the better of him and advance (solid blue arrow). But wait, isn’t Robinson still there to stop him? No. Robinson was forced to move away (yellow arrow) and deal with Richard Lezema’s (dotted blue arrow) dangerous run inside the box (Which to be completely fair is exactly what he should be doing).

Given the space he needed, Pereira takes his shot…

… and nets the equalizing goal.


  • Atlanta once again conceded right after scoring Sure, this was an even match with the Five Stripes on the short end of a 10v11, but they could’ve totally hung onto that lead. Perhaps the players got a bit too excited and anxious at the thought of stealing a win on the road with the odds against them. Maybe it was simply a case of everything going right for NYCFC on this particular play. Whatever the case, this is a habit that the team has carried for the past couple of years.
  • Sosa should’ve stayed with his man. Look, Pellegrini isn’t going anywhere. Wiley is closing him down, he’s against the touch line and he’s having to wait for the ball to come down to him. Sosa doesn’t need to close him down there. It’s more important that he stay with a runner who could receive the ball from Pellegrini and find himself in space in front of goal. Either way it’s just not a good idea to leave someone unmarked so close to the box, so Sosa needs to be more aware of those dangers.

Big Chance - Atlanta United 69’

Sure, I could choose to analyze a goal that came as a result of a set piece, but where’s the fun in that? Let’s look at the massive opportunity that came right before it.

Here we have Almada all the way over on the left looking for a good pass. Now, Atlanta are a man down and NYCFC want to capitalize on that. All of their players in this frame are pushed up toward the side the ball is on (red lines and arrows). Although this might seem like a good way of exerting pressure on an outnumbered Atlanta side, this also leaves the other side exposed for players like Araújo (circled in yellow). Almada doesn’t see him, though. He instead picks out Giakoumakis in the box and delivers a cross (blue arrow)…

… which is easily headed away by Braian Cufré (blue arrow). Danger isn’t over, though, and look at all of the space Araújo still has (circled in yellow).

Lennon recovers at the top of the 18-yard box (blue arrow) and advances a few steps. At this point, both Chanot and Cufre are way too far away (dotted red lines) from Araújo (underlined in yellow) to close him down if he gets the ball.

Also note Giakoumakis (circled in yellow) inside the box getting ready to make a run and receive the ball if Lennon crosses.

Lennon, having been close down by Magno and Chanot passes to a wide open Araújo (blue arrow) as Giakoumakis (circled in yellow) waits in the box. Notice that Giakoumakis always keeps himself in front of the defender, using his strength and size to hold off defenders like Martins.

Magno and Cufré try to close down Araújo (red arrows), but they’re too late. Araújo first-times a lobbed ball to Giakoumakis (blue arrow) who is now running to recieve it (yellow arrow).

The Greek striker chests the ball down and does something very impressive…

… he taps the ball over to where Almada is on the left side of goal (blue arrow) so that he can run in and have an easy shot on goal (yellow arrow).

Almada receives the ball, takes the shot, but it’s saved by Luis Barraza. Atlanta United score off of the ensuing corner kick.


  • Giorgios Giakoumakis really earned the name “Tank.” His physicality is such an important part to his game and Atlanta United will surely continue to benefit from it. From using his size to win headers to using his strength to draw defenders, hold them off and deliver a deadly pass to an incoming teammate, there’s so much Giakoumakis brings to this attack. He’s the textbook definition of a target man and with the attacking talent Atlanta boasts, that sort of layer can prove to be very valuable.
  • Atlanta kept pushing for goals despite the red card. Most teams would probably try to bunker in and defend the point they already have, especially on the road at one of the tougher baseball stadiums to play at in MLS. Atlanta stuck to their game plan, created scoring opportunities AND scored a goal. They were extremely unlucky to not walk away with three points, and that has to be an encouraging sign.

That’ll do it for another week of Roll the Tape! As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!