Do not scratch your eyes, but Atlanta United actually went to Lumen Field in Seattle and beat the Sounders 2-0 Sunday night in a thoroughly professional display. Here are some thoughts:
Atlanta United is suddenly fun again
Just like that, Atlanta United is an entertaining watch again. It’s truly amazing what two experienced and dynamic players can add to a team. French midfielder Tristan Muyumba and Portuguese winger Xande Silva made their presence known after the two summer signings went straight into Gonzalo Pineda’s starting XI Sunday night.
We’ll talk about those two in just a second, but let’s also recognize that while those players help, the way Atlanta played Sunday was down to all 11 players on the field having the same positive mindset. That means wingers running beyond the last defender into the box, that means Giorgos Giakoumakis sacrificing himself to make a defensive run, that means the fullbacks getting up and down the field, and importantly, it means center backs Miles Robinson and Luiz Abram playing aggressively and confidently in a higher line with a more aggressive press.
Like any transformation such as this, it takes a team effort and we saw that clearly Sunday night.
Okay now about Tristan Muyumba
He changes everything for Gonzalo Pineda and Atlanta United. He combines technical ability with a level of “soccer IQ” that the team hasn’t had in the position since... yes, Darlington Nagbe. I don’t care to compare the two players specifically, but where they are similar is that they offer the team control in the middle of the park. This control gives the team a chance to retain possession, apply pressure high up the field, craft chances in the attack, and so much more.
Muyumba’s “soccer IQ” may be more precisely described as spatial awareness. That’s a sixth sense of knowing where the players around him are going and where is the open space that can be exploited. Once Muyumba is able to start finding the spaces and receiving the ball, it forces opponents to close down, at which point Muyumba can then find the best pass or carry to unbalance the opponent.
You add the technical ability and mental attributes to the dynamic athlete that Muyumba is, and you can see why he could be such an effective central midfielder in this league, and already seems to be a cornerstone piece for years to come.
and Xande Silva
Not gonna lie, it’s been so long since we’ve seen an athletic, effective winger in Atlanta that I kinda forgot what it feels like to have one. That is, until seeing Xande Silva, Atlanta United’s loanee (which the club can choose to make permanent for a fee) who started on the left last night.
Silva was aggressive in his movements, and was effectively able to dribble past opponents into dangerous areas on multiple occasions. But importantly, he was able to keep his head up to find teammates on these runs to keep moves flowing and moving toward goal. Both Silva and youngster Edwin Mosquera did well in getting to the end line before cutting crosses back — something Pineda has harped about for the better part of two year. It seem clear that Silva will be effective in giving Pineda what he wants.
Bottom line — it’s a season-changing performance
In 2019, Atlanta United was struggling to capture the magic that led the team to an MLS Cup title the previous season, and it wasn’t until a rousing 5-0 win at home over the Houston Dynamo that the team really looked like dangerous contenders.
This Atlanta United team may not be quite as talented as that one in 2019, but Sunday’s win represents a similar pivotal moment where the season could turn on a dime in a positive direction. The performances of the new signings and their crucial role suggests that this change of fortune could be more durable since it’s being caused by a pure injection of quality as opposed to something more tenuous like a change in tactics that works out.
Honestly though, at this point, I’m not so concerned about how many points the team might pick up in the tough final stretch as I am excited to watch this team play next week. That’s something I haven’t felt in quite some time, and it feels great.