After a 2-1 road loss to Inter Miami CF, the Five Stripes now find themselves on a three-match losing streak across all competitions. For the past three matches, we’ve seen the same mistakes and sloppiness plague Atlanta United and this one was no different.
From attacking weaknesses to defensive errors, there are several factors to explain why Atlanta United was unable to get a result in a game where it outshot the opposition 18-11.
First, let’s break down some of Atlanta United’s attacks to see why the Five Stripes were unable to finish off some of their better chances.
Good Chance - Atlanta United 8’
We start with Juanjo Purata at the halfway line. Purata has a few options, but he opts to pass the ball to Andrew Gutman (solid blue arrow) since he’ll have a better angle to connect with Miles Robinson, Amar Sejdic (dotted yellow arrows) or Caleb Wiley (dotted blue arrow).
It’s no secret by now that Thiago Almada is a talented attacker and one of the most dangerous in the league. Teams know that if they afford him space, he’ll find a pass or get a shot away from distance. Teams also know that he can dribble pretty darn well, so he can also wriggle out of tight situations.
So how do you deal with a player that’s dangerous whenever he gets the ball? Simple: you don’t let him get it. Look at how many Inter Miami players are surrounding Almada in the frame above - six. That’s more than half the team on a single player. This isn’t the first time it’s happened either, go back and watch some of the other games this season (mainly any of his games after the international break) and just pay attention to how many opponents are around him at any given time.
Gutman decides to pass to Wiley (blue arrow).
I’ve frequently picked on Atlanta United for disorganized pressing (which usually leads to conceding goals). One of the big ways for pressing systems to come undone is when a defender leaves behind their marker to press another attacker and no one picks up the mark on the first attacker.
Here we see DeAndre Yedlin speeding over to press Wiley (topmost dotted red arrow). Now, Dixon Arroyo could’ve easily just followed suit with Yedlin and pressed Wiley (bottommost dotted red arrow), but he didn’t. Once he saw Yedlin step up to press Wiley, he immediately bent his run and picked up the mark on Almada (solid red arrow). Had he not done this, Wiley may have been able to play Almada in and set up a deadly chance for Atlanta.
Wiley, under pressure and without many options left, puts the ball into the space in front of Gutman (blue arrow) who’s running into a rather interesting area of the field (yellow circle) from which he can establish some good passing connections with several teammates including Almada, Sejdic, and Derrick Etienne Jr (offscreen).
Gutman ultimately decides to go with Almada who’s still under heavy pressure by Arroyo (circled in red). The experienced 30-year-old Ecuadorian midfielder isn’t just going to let the young Argentine turn on him, so Almada has to look elsewhere for a pass. Perhaps he can pass to Sejdic (dotted yellow arrow) or Wiley who’s making a run on the far side (solid yellow arrow).
Almada, surrounded by five Inter Miami players, decides to find support in Santiago Sosa (solid blue arrow).
From here, Sosa could use his excellent long-passing ability to put a ball over the top to Wiley who’s making a run on the left (yellow arrow), or Etienne (circled in purple) who’s found himself a nice pocket of space in the middle of the field.
Sosa holds on to the ball for a bit, though, and decides to play the ball to Brooks Lennon on the near touchline (blue arrow). You can now see that as Almada releases the ball, Miami’s defenders instinctively stretch out to form a line (red lines) that blocks Sosa or Sejdic from passing to anyone in the center and forces Atlanta to move play to the wings.
Lennon receives but gets closed down almost instantly, so he plays the ball back for Sejdic as it is his only option (solid blue arrow). He then jogs toward some space ahead of him (yellow arrow).
Sejdic is forced to pass to Sosa given that he’s the only open player at the moment (blue arrow). Etienne tries to give his teammates an option by moving into the space between Miami’s players (yellow arrow).
Notice again that Almada is covered by three players (red triangle) even though the ball is nowhere near him. Teams don’t want to have to deal with the consequences of him getting it, though.
Sosa quickly passes the ball forward to Etienne (blue arrow) and things have opened up for Atlanta United. Etienne has acres of space to work with. Now is a great time for some players to get open and give him options. Wiley should be making a run into the box from the left flank (dotted yellow arrow) to get a lobbed ball from Etienne. Machop Chol should be doing a 180, calling for the ball and running in behind Miami’s defense (purple arrow). Even Almada has a chance to get open (dotted blue arrow) after Arroyo begins to move toward Etienne.
But no one makes a run. Everyone is pretty much where they were in the last frame (purple circles) except Almada who does move back to get open. Etienne doesn’t pass it to him though, instead choosing a well-marked Chol (blue arrow).
Now, Chol has no good passing options as both Etienne and Almada are now blocked off by Miami defenders (circled in red). He’s completely cut off and he’s running out of time as David Ruiz is about to come over to put Chol on the wrong end of a 2v1 (red arrow).
Chol tries to pass to Lennon in a last-ditch effort to keep the attack going (dotted blue arrow)...
... but his pass under pressure isn’t good (blue arrow) and is easily picked up by Franco Negri (red arrow).
- Thiago Almada is not a secret weapon anymore. Other teams are viewing the tape and finding good ways to neutralize him on the pitch. It’s become clear to opponents that if you can subdue Thiago Almada, you can shut down Atlanta United’s attack. If Atlanta is going to continue relying on him to be the playmaker directing the attack, then they’ll have to figure out how to get him out of the intense pressure he’s under. There are several ways to do this: getting Giorgos Giakoumakis - another scary attacker for opponents to worry about - back on the field is a good start. Another option could be to instruct attackers like Wiley or Araujo to make underlapping runs around him so he can play the ball to them easier with quick, one-touch passes.
- Players need to make more runs in the final third. This attack didn’t make it into the box, but it should’ve. Why didn’t it make it into the box? Because no one was making any runs into the box. There were several opportunities for players to make runs into the box that would’ve created serious danger for Miami to deal with, but those runs never happened. How do you get the players to make more runs? Training. I know that’s a boring answer, but it’s the best way. The players need to play together, build chemistry and instinctively know where their teammates will be to receive a pass. The player on the ball needs to trust that the runners will make their runs and the runners need to trust that the player on the ball will play them the ball.
Great Chance - Atlanta United 22’
The play starts from an Atlanta United throw that goes well into Miami’s half (blue arrow).
Chol brings the ball down very well (blue arrow) and puts it in the path of Wiley (yellow arrow) who sprints with it down to Miami’s goal.
Kamal Miller won’t make it easy for Wiley, though. The Canadian international steps over to cut the youngster off (red arrow). In response, Wiley bends his run going parallel to the goal (blue arrow) to avoid Miller.
This frame is where a small window opens up for Wiley to potentially slip the ball to Etienne who would only have Negri to beat before going for goal (dotted blue arrow). That doesn’t happen, though...
... and Wiley sort of awkwardly hits the ball and loses possession...
... and Yedlin clears the danger (red arrow).
Corentin Jean tries to head it down to a teammate but ends up spiking it past him (blue arrow) as Wiley rushes over to recover (red arrow).
Then, Wiley plays an incredible ball back into the box (blue arrow)...
... which lands for Etienne...
... but the Haitian international’s shot is caught easily by Drake Callender.
- Caleb Wiley... take a bow. First of all the run to set up the chance and then the insane over-the-top backheel pass for Etienne’s shot. The kid’s quality seems to be going up every time we see him on the field. I can’t wait to see what else he has in store this season and what he’ll do at the U-20 World Cup.
- Derrick Etienne Jr... come on, man. He has to do better there. He just received a goal on a silver platter and made it easy for the keeper. I’ll admit, he did good work finding empty spaces to receive the ball, but he doesn’t seem to know what to do in front of goal. I think he had time to take a touch and place his shot a little better. There were a few other instances in this game where he had chances to get shots away but didn’t. Perhaps he’s lacking confidence at the moment, but maybe his first goal will help boost that and he’ll start to have an output similar to his 9g, 6a from last season with Columbus.
Inter Miami Goal - Josef Martinez 75’
This goal starts with Miami center back Serhiy Kryvtsov finding the space for a pass to David Ruiz (blue arrow) who has Santiago Sosa closing in from behind (red arrow). At the moment, Atlanta United is doing a solid job of covering Kryvtsov’s near passing options. The only unmarked player would be Franco Negri over by the far touchline, but Atlanta’s defenders would likely be able to get in position in time to deal with the danger.
Then you have Josef Martinez (circled in yellow), one of two Miami strikers that need to be covered by the center backs. But don’t worry, Josef hasn’t been the same since his ACL injury. There’s no way he’d actually be able to make a run in behind the defense to get a shot away.
Meanwhile, Ruiz has to immediately send the ball back to Kryvtsov (blue arrow)now that both Sosa and Caleb Wiley are pressuring him. So far so good.
Seeing that the ball could be going back to the center back, Thiago Almada comes over to see if he can exert additional pressure and potentially even force a dangerous turnover (red arrow).
But there’s one more player that we haven’t talked about yet: DeAndre Yedlin (circled in yellow). He’s waiting on the near touchline for an opportunity to get the ball, take on Andrew Gutman and make his way into the box.
The experienced 29-year-old fullback with 78 caps for the US Men’s National Team is one of Miami’s most dangerous attackers, and he’s about to show why.
With Almada quickly closing him down, Kryvstov sends a lobbed ball to the near touchline for Yedlin (blue arrow). Notice how at the time Kryvstov sends the pass, Gutman (circled in yellow) is still looking at Kryvstov and is only about to turn and see Yedlin. This means that Yedlin has some more time to get the ball and exploit some of the defensive cushion that Gutman is giving him.
Yedlin receives and Gutman does his best to close him down, but the more experienced fullback prevails. Meanwhile, in the central areas, Josef Martinez can sense that a chance is developing. After Leonardo Campana shifted to the right wing, Martinez is now the Herons’ sole center forward and as such is the main man that Atlanta’s center backs need to watch closely for any penetrating runs.
But there’s no way he can actually make runs, right? After that ACL injury, he was never the same...
Wait, hang on. Yedlin has completely beaten Gutman and is barreling toward Atlanta’s box. In this position, Juanjo Purata needs to stay in front of Yedlin as much as possible to stop him from potentially getting a shot off (dotted red arrow). Unfortunately for him, Yedlin isn’t going to shoot. He sees a runner making a run into the massive gap that’s opened up between Atlanta’s center backs (yellow arrow). Yedlin plays an inch-perfect pass between Gutman and Purata into the path of the runner (blue arrow) - none other than Josef Martinez.
In this image, I have Miles Robinson circled in red. Why? Because he’s the one that needs to be watching Josef and going with him when he makes his run. But he’s too late to see his run, too late to close him down...
...and only arrives in time to retrieve the ball from the back of the net after Martinez’s wonderful finish to double Miami’s lead.
- I guess Josef’s still got it. Two goals to give the Herons three points over the Five Stripes. Congrats on 100 MLS goals, but maybe don’t score so many on us? Pretty please?
- Careless defending can have disastrous consequences. First, the penalty conceded by Machop Chol then the failure to watch and track one of the most prolific goalscorers in MLS history. One has to conclude that Atlanta United just created its own problems. That tacked on to the struggle to produce offensively makes for some undesirable results. Fortunately, it seems like some of Atlanta’s important starters such as Giorgos Giakoumakis, Franco Ibarra and Luiz Araujo are just about ready to return. Hopefully, this boosts the team’s confidence and helps them out of the run of bad form they’re currently in.
- Andrew Gutman has been in some rough form lately. Ever since coming back from his injury, Atlanta United’s choice left back hasn’t seemed like himself at times. His take-on success rate has dropped from 45.5% to 10%, he’s missed a few passes in key moments and he seems to get beaten quite often by opposing right wingers and fullbacks. Of course, he got Atlanta’s consolation goal against Miami, but he also let Yedlin in to play that ball to Josef. He’s still undoubtedly the team’s best left back, but he can be better.