clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Roll the Tape: Breaking down key defensive moments in Atlanta United’s 1-0 win vs New York Red Bulls

There may not have been many goals to talk about, but there’s plenty to analyze defensively

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United have always had a hard time against the New York Red Bulls because the Five Stripes always find difficulties trying to deal with their press. In many aspects, the Red Bulls’ style of play is one that neutralizes Atlanta United’s typical game plan.

This game was no exception even though Atlanta did pull out a win. New York’s high pressing and quick counterattacks posed many challenges for the Five Stripes’ defenders, but they managed to protect both the lead and the second clean sheet of the season.

Today, we’re going to look at some of the more pivotal defensive moments for Atlanta United and what the team did right to avoid conceding to their rivals from the north.

Great Chance - New York Red Bulls 10’

Hey, you know how Miles Robinson is a pretty good defender and is probably going to leave the club on a free at the end of the season because he knows he’ll have suitors in Europe? Well, there’s a reason for that. Just take a look at this.

Derrick Etienne Jr. receives the ball with his back to Kyle Duncan and immediately faces pressure - this happened very often during the match. The Haitian international had the option to pass back to Caleb Wiley (dotted blue arrow), but instead opts to hold the ball and try to dribble out of trouble. He’s unsuccessful as Omir Fernandez comes in to close him down (red arrow). Etienne slips and the ball rolls out into space (yellow arrow) to be recovered by Cristian Casseres Jr.

Note that because Atlanta United was on the attack, many of their numbers were forward including fullback Brooks Lennon. This is what he’s supposed to do in the system so that he can receive any long switches of play. To compensate, Wiley, the fullback on the other side, stays further back.

Sejdic quickly comes over to close down Casseres (red arrow), cutting off his passing option to Luquinhas (circled in purple) who continues his run to try and get open again (purple arrow).

Left with little other choice, Casseres starts charging forward (blue arrow) where Franco “destroyer” Ibarra is getting ready to stop him in his tracks (yellow arrow).

Having run into the last bit of space ahead of him, Casseres needed to find a pass. At this point, he could’ve attempted the pass to Luquinhas (dotted blue arrow), but he would’ve risked Ibarra sliding in to toe it away (red arrow). Casseres instead opts to send a forward pass to Cory Burke (blue arrow).

Burke isn’t alone, though. He’s being bullied by Juanjo Purata who’s attempting to use his strength to shoulder Burke away from the ball for Robinson to collect easily. Burke moves to the left and Purata stays with him…

… but then Burke in a stroke of genius uses Purata’s momentum against him and executes a very good turn (blue arrow) to chase the ball with loads of space between him and Atlanta’s goal (yellow arrow). The only thing standing in his way? Miles Robinson (circled in red).

Here is where you start to see Robinson’s defensive acumen in action.

Burke gets the ball and runs full speed toward Atlanta’s box (blue arrow). Miles starts to close him down (red arrow), but makes sure he isn’t overcommitting. He always keeps himself between Burke and the goal. He just has to keep that up and slowly inch closer to the Red Bulls’ striker and prepare to pounce the second he sees the chance.

About to enter the box, Burke takes a heavy touch (yellow arrow). This is exactly the window Robinson was waiting for. The Five Stripes’ center back goes in for the tackle (red arrow)…

… and cleanly wins the ball back inside the box! Now, I wish I could say that was the end of that play, but it wasn’t.

Robinson passes to Wiley (blue arrow) in hopes that he can start moving the ball upfield and catch New York on the counterattack.

Now, Wiley here has the chance to get the ball to Sejdic (dotted blue arrow) who has space and isn’t under any pressure whatsoever. Unfortunately, the young fullback delays the pass too long and is close down by Burke (red arrow).

Burke muscles Wiley off the ball and the danger is back on for Atlanta United. Burke moves the ball over to the edge of the box (red arrow) and prepares to play in a cross. Sejdic, seeing that his teammate has lost possession, steps up to close down Burke (yellow arrow).

Burke manages to get his cross away (blue arrow)…

… but the cross is cut out really well by Purata and put out for a corner kick (red arrow).


  • Miles freakin’ Robinson. That’s it. Nuff said. The guy has a very high defensive IQ and has to be one of the best (if not the best) 1v1 defenders on the continent. His patience to look for the right moment to step in and swipe the ball away is something you don’t see often in MLS. He really does have something special and I can’t wait to see what he can do in Europe (I just wish Atlanta could get something for him).
  • When in doubt, blast it out. Wiley needed to get the ball out of the danger area in this play. I mean, your teammate just put in a world-class tackle and you’re just gonna go and give the ball away again? Granted, I will say that I noticed Wiley making smarter decisions as the game when on. I’m not sure if Pineda told him something at halftime, but I noticed a subtle change in him in the second half.

Great Chance - New York Red Bulls 35’

Yet another time the Red Bulls got within inches of a goal. This play starts with some build-up from midfield.

Sean Nealis has the ball after successfully freeing himself from Giorgios Giakoumakis’ pressure. He now has a few more seconds before Thiago Almada closes him down (red arrrow).

At this moment, Atlanta United is doing a very good job of marking New York’s players. Every progressive passing option is covered by someone. Because of this, Casseres decides to move back a bit and free himself from Ibarra’s mark (yellow arrow) to receive a pass from Nealis (blue arrow).

Etienne, in response to seeing Casseres receive with his back to him, decides to run up and press him. With that, Casseres is surrounded by Atlanta United players. He had an option to pass to Peter Stroud (dotted blue arrow), but opted against it, instead dribbling to find Fernandez (solid blue arrrow) - a more progressive option with the potential to become a dangerous attack now that Wiley would be outnumbered by Fernandez and Duncan.

Fernandez receives and follows up with a through ball (blue arrow) to play Duncan in on the wing (yellow arrow).

Take notice of the danger developing on the other side. Cameron Harper has begun to run into the acres of empty space on the right side (purple arrow). Now, normally I would say that this is Lennon’s territory (and to be fair, it sort of still is), but Araújo (circled in red) is the one who has been marking him throughout this entire play and has to continue running with him especially with Lennon tucking in as far as he is.

Duncan sees the chance for a cross as Burke starts running to the edge of the six-yard box (yellow arrow). The Red Bulls’ right back sends in the cross (blue arrow).

In the meantime, Casseres (circled in purple) has positioned himself at the top of the box to create the opportunity for a deadly cutback. This option is negated, however, by Wiley’s positioning - which would intercept any pass headed Casseres’ way - and both Sejdic and Ibarra (dotted red arrows) who are rushing in to cover the channel for that pass.

Cameron Harper still has space on the other side (dotted purple arrow), but he sort of hesitates and breaks off his run, so the option doesn’t develop.

Duncan’s cross almost reaches Burke, but Purata gets in front of him and manages to get enough on it…

… to send the ball out for a corner.


  • Be careful who you give space to. The ball never does get played to Harper and his run isn’t rewarded, but he was a viable option for a switch of play for a solid five seconds. If he receives there, he could catch Atlanta’s defense by surprise and the attack may have succeeded. Last week against Columbus (yeah, I know I promised to not talk about it again- I’m sorry), we analyzed a goal that Atlanta conceded in that fashion. Fortunately, they didn’t pay for leaving Harper alone, but they may not be as lucky next time.
  • Purata did really well in this game. Following last week’s debacle, Purata put in one heck of a shift with eight recoveries and eight clearances. This was just one of them that was a key factor in keeping the Red Bulls out.
  • The team did a good job of marking players (for the most part). Aside from Araújo losing Harper, the team did an excellent job of staying with runners and limiting passing options by covering the right space. It looks like Atlanta United finally has found the right defensive shape and you have to give credit to Pineda and the coaching staff for that.

Bad giveaway turns into counterattack - New York Red Bulls 47’

Atlanta United were missing Almada last week at Columbus, but the Argentine wonder kid had a mediocre performance against New York. This play starts as a result of one of his errant passes being picked up by an opponent and nearly punishing the Five Stripes.

Here, Almada has some space to exploit and time to make his decision before being closed down. He has two different passing options that wouldn’t require trying to dangerously pass the ball through the middle, a short pass to Sejdic or a long ball into space for Etienne (dotted blue arrows). Instead, Almada tries to switch the play to Lennon (solid blue arrow), but miscalculates and has his pass intercepted by Luquinhas (red arrow).

Note that because Atlanta were just in possession, the players are spreading out and not necessarily covering New York’s two forwards (circled in yellow) who could have relatively easy paths to goal.

It’s crisis mode for Atlanta. The Red Bulls are bearing down on goal with the Five Stripes’ defenders trying to get back and cover. Luquinhas picks out a pass in behind (blue arrow) for Vanzier who is running into a prime position to score (yellow arrow). Purata, recognizing the danger, rushes to get in his path (red arrow).

Right here, Vanzier could’ve tried to shoot, but he was having a hard time getting on his dominant left foot. His other option could’ve been a pass to Burke (dotted blue arrow), but Vanzier instead decides to dribble on and find the shot. Purata continues to get in his way and starts running him down away from the center of the box (red arrow).

Vanzier still tries to get the space for a shot (blue arrow) and Purata does his best to move discomfort him as much as possible without conceding a penalty. Robinson, meanwhile goes behind them both to make sure Burke doesn’t get the ball somehow (red arrow).

Purata then puts in a majestic tackle that results in the ball bouncing off Vanzier and going out for a goal kick.


  • Juanjo Purata and Miles Robinson make a good center back duo. The two seem to have a very good understanding of where the other will be and how to best defend in different scenarios. Both are tall, strong and capable of winning duels. This was just one example of them working together well and I’m sure we’ll see that partnership develop throughout the season.
  • Thiago Almada had an off day. But don’t worry! That’s to be expected every now and then especially after only training with the team once this week. Does that excuse the horribly miss placed passes that could’ve resulted in goals? Maybe not, but it does mean that 17s can likely expect their star boy to bounce back against NYCFC. So take a big chill pill, relax and relish in the fact that Atlanta United beat the Red Bulls.

That’s a wrap for this week’s defensive analysis. What were your thoughts on the game and Atlanta’s defensive performance? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.