After having a surprising amount of possession against the Montreal Impact, the Vancouver Whitecaps were back to their old ways in their 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo. Fans may not like it but it was probably the best move. Houston play with a higher press that tries to create turnovers and break with pace, so sitting deep and playing balls over the press was probably the most pragmatic way to get a win. Atlanta, on the other hand, is a very different team who plays a possession-based style. So far, they’ve played one team (Dynamo) who got in their face and pressed them and another team (D.C United) who tried a low block. You can look at the results of those two games to see which is the more effective style. Thus, I don’t think ‘Robbo ball’ in its traditional sense will be an effective way of dealing with Atlanta. Instead I believe that the best course of action, even though the ‘Caps are on the road against one of the league’s best teams, is to set the team up to press the Atlanta backline and be proactive in causing mistakes. Here is how I would do it (and I once coached a u-10 team to second place so I think I know what I’m talking about!).
Goalkeeper: Stefan Marinovic. Duh.
Right back: Jake Nerwinski. He hasn’t been amazing through two games but he was frequently overloaded against Houston, due to Yordy Reyna not tracking back, and did a pretty good job of marking Ignacio Piatti out of the game against Montreal; though weirdly not Daniel Lovitz. I don’t quite get how that works but there you have it. Thus I think it would be spurious to drop him.
Centre backs: Kendall Waston. Duh. Will be important on set pieces and if the Caps do press, he can step up to deal with the long balls that Atlanta would play in that situation.
Aaron Maund or Jose Aja. I don’t think it makes a huge amount of difference. I might slightly lean towards Aja, to try to exploit set pieces. It is an area of weakness for Atlanta and furthers my goal of the #HeightXI.
Left back: Somebody. I’m not quite sure who. I assume Marcel De Jong is injured. Alphonso Davies played well against Houston, but don’t confuse that with acumen for the position. Davies was frequently caught out but used his pace to recover. I worry he would be exploited against the more skilled Atlanta. I also think the left back aught to be someone who’s going to keep it simple and not make to many runs up the field. I don’t know what the fitness status of Brett Levis or Justin Fiddes is (both picked up knocks in preseason) but I think if either is able to play then they should (Levis posted on Instagram showing he’s back in training so that’s encouraging). It’s my view that a young player in his correct position should be prioritized over an out-of-position veteran. If you don’t trust the youngsters to play when called upon then there is no point in having them on the team. Worst case scenario Efrain Juarez and Sean Franklin have both played out of position there a few times in their careers and could probably put in a shift.
Defensive midfielders: Russell Teibert and Efrain Juarez/Jordon Mutch. The ‘Caps will need a lot of steel in this position to deal with Almiron and friends.
Right midfielder: Brek Shea/Cristian Techera. I’m a bit torn on this one. On the one hand it’s harsh to leave Techera out again and he’s a danger from set pieces which, as I mentioned earlier, do not agree with Atlanta’s backline. On the other hand Shea is surprisingly effective in the press just by virtue of being so tall. If you go and look at his highlights you’ll see he creates quite a few goals where the opposition lost the ball because they passed to close to his long spidery legs.
#10: Nicolas Mezquida. He’s tireless in the press and is pretty good at taking corners and free kicks. If he were 6’3 he’d be Atlanta United kryptonite. I feel this is a game where his skill set would be invaluable.
Left midfielder: Alphonso Davies. His physicality and strength in the tackle will be invaluable in the press and he can provide a spark that can break Atlanta down.
Striker: Kei Kamara. He does very well at harrying the opposition backline, is a threat from set pieces, and he’s on a scoring streak. I see no reason to take him out.
But that’s just what I would do. Be sure to let us know what you think the best approach to the Atlanta game is.