Another week, another poor performance from Atlanta United as they fell to Charlotte FC by a 3-1 score. Doesn’t this make you so excited for tonight’s match?
I re-watched the atrocious defeat to Charlotte so that you don’t have to, and here are some of the things that I noticed about the Five Stripes’ performance in attack and defense.
Let’s start with the attack since it was strongest during the first 16 minutes and the last five.
Great Chance - Atlanta United 15’
The attack starts with Thiago Almada passing forward to Brooks Lennon (blue arrow). Pretty standard stuff, right?
Notice what the backline looks like right now (red line). It’s a back three with Purata as the central center back and Robinson and Gutman on either side. By Gutman staying back to form part of the defensive line, he allows Lennon to roam more freely up the right flank and create danger in the attack.
And he’s about to create a whole bunch of it.
Lennon sees Araujo’s run in behind Charlotte’s defense (yellow arrow) and plays an inch-perfect pass to put him through (blue arrow). This is great! Atlanta United have a quick counter-attack with numbers forward and Araujo through on goal as well as Miguel Berry on the other side (purple arrow). What could possibly go wrong?
Araujo picks up the ball near the edge of Charlotte’s box and is now locked in a 1v1 against Kristijan Kahlina who steps forward to close him down.
Now might be a good time to explain something to readers less familiar with goalkeeping theory. When an attacker is through 1v1 with only the keeper to beat, that goalkeeper will charge off of their line and make themselves big (arms and legs stretched out wide like a snow angel). This limits the attacker’s angle toward the goal and makes it much harder for them to get a clean shot off.
This is exactly what Araujo needs to combat either by shooting before Kahlina gets too close or waiting for him to get close then juking him out and taking the shot on an open net.
Araujo doesn't shoot. Instead, he keeps coming at Kahlina (blue arrow), leaving us to believe he’ll do the latter.
Now Araujo is closer and has limited space, but should be able to curl the ball into the net with the space he has. Either that or go for the more humiliating nutmeg goal (dotted blue arrows). That’s sure to spice up any rivalry match.
Araujo still doesn’t shoot.
He only shoots when Kahlina is right in front of him with arms and legs outstretched - a perfect scenario for the goalkeeper who blocks it and ends the danger.
Being as close to Kahlina as he was, Araujo probably should’ve just committed to taking Kahlina on, dribbling past him and scoring an easy goal (dotted blue arrows).
- The Brooks Lennon and Luiz Araujo connection is pretty neat. I tweeted about this before a couple of days ago, but Atlanta United’s attack was at its most dangerous when Lennon and Araujo worked together along the right flank. One would run an overlap while the other held up play before playing a pass that would see the first one in a great deal of space. It’s similar to what we saw here. These two were firing on all cylinders for the first 16 minutes then went quiet when Charlotte scored. They need to learn to keep that connection together and continue to associate on that right side. I’m also hoping Araujo scores a goal sometime soon so that he can maybe start to regain confidence and start living up to that $4.5 million salary.
- Did you notice Miguel Berry at all during that play? No? Well, I circled him and drew arrows around him and everything. go back and check. Do you know why you didn’t notice him? Because he’s slow and not getting into useful areas. I even tweeted his heat map from the game according to SofaScore.
Miguel Berry's heatmap last night according to Sofascore. Very few to no touches in the final third with most of his activity concentrated at the halfway circle because... well... he'd be the one to kick #atlutd off after each Charlotte goal. This is not ideal from a striker. pic.twitter.com/EUmN16o1JP— Henry Higuita (@HAHiguita) May 14, 2023
Throughout this whole play, there wasn’t a single moment where Berry puts himself in a good position to receive a pass from Araujo. He’s always staying behind the mark and just can’t get himself open. What good is a forward who can’t make himself open (much like Giakoumakis does with his physicality) for a pass?
Charlotte FC Goal - Justin Meram 17’
List of materials needed to analyze this play:
- A computer/smart device
- At least one functioning eyeball
- A stopwatch
Got all of those? Good, let’s dive into the play.
After an overcooked ball over the top meant for Caleb Wiley was picked up by Kahlina, Charlotte’s keeper quickly plays it forward to Jaylin Lindsey to catch Atlanta United with a quick counterattack (blue arrow).
Lindsey receives and sees Karol Swiderski making a run between Atlanta’s center backs (yellow arrow) and plays a pass into the space in front of the Polish international (blue arrow). Juanjo Purata runs to intercept Swiderski (solid red arrow) while Miles Robinson runs into the space ahead of the Pole to stop him from advancing (dotted red arrow).
Now’s as good a time as any to check in on an old friend: Justin Meram (circled in yellow). He’s just gradually making his way up the left side and not posing any real danger at this moment. Keep an eye on him, though, and also watch Brooks Lennon’s (circled in purple) movements as this play develops.
Swiderski cleverly backheels the ball to his compatriot Kamil Jozwiak (blue arrow) who has been afforded a great deal of space here and is about to play the ball into the more open areas (ie: where there are fewer red shirts per blue shirt).
While we’re talking about red and blue shirts, let's count them. Atlanta United is defending with six players while Charlotte attacks with four, so Atlanta has a numbers advantage. In theory, they should be able to hold Charlotte off enough to allow the rest of their teammates to drop back and cover.
Charlotte has astutely determined that their efforts will be much more successful down the left flank given that all of Atlanta’s defenders are concentrated on the right. Jozwiak passes horizontally to Ben Bender (blue arrow) who is about to have three Atlanta United players converge on his location (red arrows).
But that’s all part of the plan.
Because as soon as Lennon commits to pressing Bender, the 22-year-old simply passes the ball over to our good friend Meram (blue arrow) who runs into the box (yellow arrow) and forces Lennon to turn around and cut him off (red arrow).
Lennon applies intense pressure to Meram who tries to cross the ball to one of two completely open Charlotte players inside the box (circled in yellow). Do you have that stopwatch I asked you for earlier? Go ahead and start it. The moment Meram plays this cross is the last time that Lennon actually looks at Meram for a good bit.
Now let’s talk about Bender and Ashley Westwood and why they’re completely open (which they shouldn’t be). Let’s count how many of Charlotte’s players are between the penalty spot and the six-yard box: two. Now look at how many of Atlanta’s players are in that same space: SIX (five if you don’t count Lennon). Six players to mark two, leaving two others completely open to potentially receive the ball and have enough time to shoot.
Fortunately, Meram’s cross is way overcooked, but the danger doesn’t end there.
Westwood gets across to pick up the ball before it rolls out of play and passes it back to Lindsey (blue arrow).
Is your stopwatch still running? Good. Still keeping an eye on Meram (circled in yellow)? Awesome. You’re already doing better than Lennon (circled in red) who should at least be aware of Meram’s presence and make occasional scans over his shoulder. Keep watching them as this play continues.
Lindsey sees no good way forward and passes back to Westwood.
Bender makes a run into the heart of Atlanta’s box (yellow arrow), creating a third threat that requires coverage. Now, there are only four red shirts against three blue shirts. Atlanta still has a numbers advantage and thus should have enough defenders to mark the attackers in the box, have one left over AND allow Lennon to stay and cover Meram.
But both Robinson and Purata go to cover Swiderski and both Sejdic and Ibarra stay back to cover Jozwiak. That’s four defenders covering two of the three attackers.
Lennon does this math quickly and decides to step up and cover Bender (red arrow), leaving Meram (circled in yellow) all alone.
Westwood plays a cross into the box (blue arrow), but it isn’t to any of the players in the center of the box...
It’s to Meram, who’s wide open and blasts the ball past Westberg to open the scoring. You can stop your stopwatches now.
- Defenders need to make numbers advantages count. When you have one more defender than there is an attacker, there’s no reason for an attacker to be left unmarked. In part, I think that’s why Lennon feels the need to come off of Meram (totally not excusing him, though, as I’ll explain in my next point). Jozwiak and Swiderski should be well covered between Robinson and Purata. Throw in Sejdic tracking Bender’s run and suddenly everyone is covered and Lennon is free to cover Meram. But wait, that’s not all because...
- Brooks Lennon didn’t see that coming. Twelve seconds. A lot can happen in twelve seconds: that's how long the Wright Brothers’ first flight lasted. It’s also the length of time that Lennon takes his eyes off of Meram. Twelve seconds. Come on, man. Lennon has to be more aware of the danger that Meram poses and needs to at minimum do routine scans over his shoulder just to check on him.
Charlotte FC Goal - Justin Meram 56’
Now, to understand this play, we need some context. Atlanta United, down a man after Andrew Gutman’s red card expulsion, is defending with a few personnel changes to adjust to going a man down: Wiley was moved back to left back and Derrick Etienne Jr was brought on for Amar Sejdic, adding a body to the left wing but removing one from the center of midfield.
Charlotte advances down the left flank with Jozwiak, Westwood and Lindsey. With Wiley pressuring Jozwiak, the Polish attacker passes back to Westwood (blue arrow) while Lindsey continues making a piercing run down the flank (yellow arrow). Wiley, seeing Jozwiak pass the ball, decides to break off his press on the Pole and tucks in to get in his way (red arrow).
With Etienne and Thiago Almada pressing Westwood (solid and dotted red arrows), the experienced Englishman plays the ball to the flank (blue arrow) into Lindsey’s path (yellow arrow).
Notice where Wiley is (red circle). If he were still playing left wing and Gutman was out wide to cover Lindsey, Wiley’s positioning wouldn’t be that bad. However, since Wiley is acting as left back, his positioning places him too far out to cut off Lindsey, allowing him to advance a considerable amount.
The worst part of it all is that the defense is suddenly all out of shape as Jozwiak and Lindsey create a 2v1 against Wiley. Lindsey plays a pass into space (blue arrow) for Jozwiak to collect (yellow arrow).
Let’s switch focus to the other side where Meram (circled in yellow) is once again making his way to Atlanta’s box. Surely, Lennon (circled in red) will remember how he forgot about Meram on the first goal and be extra careful with him this time.
Jozwiak plays a driven cutback pass to the center of Atlanta’s box...
... and Meram gets to it before Lennon can to increase Charlotte’s lead to three.
- Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, I get scored on again. Lennon, buddy, we just talked about this. You have to learn from your mistakes. If you get burned once by forgetting to keep an eye on a certain guy, then allow the same guy to breeze past you and score again, that’s just carelessness. A good defender is able to know who he’s supposed to be marking and knows to watch him like a hawk. This is yet another example of the “lack of intensity” that this team has been struggling with during this run of poor form.
- Atlanta United once again got destroyed down the left flank. But this time it’s possible to pin it on being a man down! That’s what allowed Charlotte to get an advantage on Wiley who was the only one covering that flank. I think maybe Franco Ibarra could’ve made a difference if he’d hustled a bit and pressed Jozwiak so that there was at least someone running with him. Anyways, let’s try to end this article with a positive, shall we? Wiley is about to go play for the USA in the U-20 World Cup. Hopefully, this experience serves for him to develop and he can use what he learns in Argentina when he comes back. Good luck, Caleb!