The Vancouver Whitecaps (2-0-0) make their second trip into hostile territory in as many weeks when they face Atlanta United (1-1-0) this Saturday. This is only the second all-time meeting between the two clubs and the first in Mercedes-Benz Stadium which housed a massive 72,035 fans for their home opener last Sunday.
Last weekend, the ‘Caps held on 2-1 for their first ever victory at BBVA Compass Stadium. While in the end the scoreline was the same as their home opener, the Whitecaps largely abandoned their aggressive pressure and possession based football from the opening match. Instead, the Whitecaps adopted their more familiar “bend but don’t break approach” and I would suspect that we will see Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson apply similar tactics on Saturday in Atlanta.
After an embarrassing opening-day drubbing against Houston, Atlanta United was able to recover at home last Sunday with a steady 3-1 victory over DC United and former Whitecaps Goalkeeper David Ousted with goals from star players Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, and Hector Villalba.
Crucially, Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino adopted a 3-5-2 formation utilizing three centre-backs for greater solidarity on the back-line, something which has been a common issue for the Five Stripes over their brief history. Given the ‘Caps propensity for counter-attacking and capitalizing through set-pieces on the road, I think that there’s a good chance Atlanta will line up in a similar formation this weekend.
Vancouver defeated Atlanta 3-1 in the lone meeting between the teams last season, June 3, 2017, at BC Place.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
When: Saturday, March 17 at 4:30 pm PST
How: TSN 2 (TV), TSN 1040 (Radio), MLS Live (Online)
Neither team has any players suspended although there are a few injuries on each side to keep in mind.
High priced offseason midfield acquisition Ezequiel Barco (right quad strain), Forward Jon Gallagher (ankle) and Defender Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez (hip contusion – questionable) are on the injury list for the Five Stripes.
For the Whitecaps, Midfielder Aly Ghazal (left hamstring strain) and Defender Doneil Henry (left hamstring strain) continue to be absent, while Defender Marcel de Jong (rib contusion) is marked as questionable - although it appears less and less likely that he will find his way onto the match-day roster.
Who’s Worth Watching?
Close support and incisive passing are the lifeblood of Atlanta’s attack, and no player prospers more from these conditions than Miguel Almiron. The Paraguayan 2017 MLS Newcomer of the Year registered an impressive 9 goals and 14 assists last season. After starting the season on the left side of Midfield, Almiron was moved back to his preferred CAM position last week against DC United and promptly turned in a man of the match performance. For a greater in-depth breakdown of Almiron’s play and everything else you need to know about Atlanta United, be sure to check out Tyler’s “Know Your Enemy” piece here.
As far as the Whitecaps are concerned, Atlanta’s prospective 3-5-2 formation and high press could really open up some running room down the wings for the likes of Alphonso Davies and Brek Shea. If the Whitecaps manage to get a result, it will probably come on the strength of goals similar to Brek Shea’s last weekend in Houston.
Who’s Going to Win?
Since the beginning of last season, Atlanta has scored 2 or more goals in 14 of their home games, tied for the second-most of any team in the league. But as we know, the Whitecaps have a habit of trumping conventional wisdom and statistics, especially on the road. While I think the Whitecaps will most definitely struggle with Atlanta’s potent attack, I can see them doing just enough on the counter and through set pieces to earn themselves a 2-2 draw.
Vancouver Whitecaps: (4-1-4-1) GK: Stefan Marinovic — Jakob Nerwinski, Kendall Waston, Aaron Maund, Sean Franklin — Russell Teibert — Christian Techera, Efrain Juarez, Felipe, Alphonso Davies — Kei Kamara
Atlanta United: (3-5-2) GK: Brad Guzan — Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst, Franco Escobar — Greg Garza, Miguel Almiron, Jeff Larentowicz, Darlington Nagbe, Julian Gressel — Josef Martinez, Hector Villalba
Officials - Referee: Ismail Elfath, Assistant Referees: Matthew Nelson, Adam Garner, 4th Official: Rubiel Vazquez, VAR: Juan Guzman Jr