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Know Your Enemy – Atlanta United FC Edition

And Three Questions with Dirty South Soccer’s Haris Kruskic

On Saturday March 17th at 4:30pm PST the Vancouver Whitecaps face Atlanta United FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.

A Brief History of Team

Atlanta United are in their second season joining MLS in 2017. Their owner Arthur Blank (whom also owns the Falcons, and co-founded Home Depot) had been trying to put a team in Atlanta since 2008 and was given approval to Join MLS in 2013 after the city of Atlanta approved a new stadium for the Falcons. And what a building it is. The brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the Vine City district is an impressive piece of modern architecture. Holding up to 72,000 spectators, it is also an imposing place to play and is said to rival the Clink in Seattle in terms of volume. The Five Stripes finished their first season in MLS 4th in the East with 15 wins, 9 losses and 10 draws. They had an impressive 70 goals for and a +30-goal difference (second only to TFC in both categories).

The first question

TD: After an impressive inaugural season in MLS, AUFC are expected to compete with the top teams in the East this season. Do you think the team can live up to expectations?

HK: Well, a couple different superbooks in Las Vegas give us the second-best odds to win the Cup. Honestly, I really don’t think that’s out of the question. Toronto FC should still be the favorite and the Eastern Conference looks really good this year with New York City FC, the New York Red Bulls, and Orlando City FC all making quality changes to their squads over the offseason. Considering the amount of money Atlanta spent on transfers (a reported $15 million on Ezequiel Barco and $1.5 million on Darlington Nagbe), I would say anything short of a trip to the conference finals would be a disappointment. However, if Atlanta can stay healthy and add one or two more quality depth players, I like our odds to make a run for the Cup

The Season So Far

AUFC have played two games and have split them with one win and one loss. The two matches could not have had a more different result with a 0-4 loss in Houston followed by a 3-1 win in the home opener against DC united.

The Second Question

TD: Atlanta United have had two polar opposite results in their first two matches of the season. What caused such a drastic loss in Houston, and what did the team do differently to come out with a win against DC United?

HK: Errors that are expected to happen during the preseason happened against Houston instead. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez’s attempted backpass to Brad Guzan was short, allowing Houston’s attack to pounce and convert for the opening goal, sloppy defending led to another, and a poor clearance from Guzan fell right to the feet of a Dynamo player for a tap-in, concluding the worst half of soccer in Atlanta’s history. United had no linkup play in the attack and were caught on the counter far too often. I blame that mostly on the fact that four key players were playing out of their preferred position.

Last match starting eleven

Last Match Recap

AUFC beat their northern name-twin quite easily (after losing all three matches against DC United in 2017). Atlanta played to their strengths coming out in a 3-5-2 formation, and it worked a treat. Their close support, clever passing in midfield and incisive runs discombobulated the DC defense. On the first goal, the Atlanta midfielders overload and support the ball. At the start of the movement there are seven Atlanta players on the right side of the pitch and behind the center line.

On the second goal the video picks up just after the CB plays a ball down the left wing for midfield lynch pin Miguel Almiron. Almiron dances across the pitch and plays a square ball to the right side. At this point AUFC have committed 5 men to attack (3 ahead of the ball) which compresses the DC United defense. The ball is played into the right side of the box, then back to the top of the box to an unmarked Almiron and who makes no mistake.

The third goal was from a cleverly worked corner again set up by Almiron which was capped by a beautiful finish by Hector Villalba.

The Final Question

TD: The Five Stripes bought Argentinian attacking midfielder Ezequiel Barco in January for an MLS record 15 million dollars. He promptly injured himself in pre-season and isn’t expected back until the end of March / early April. How did he look in pre-season before the injury, and does he have the talent to back up the price of acquisition?

HK: Barco definitely showed flashes of his quality during the preseason. It’s clear that he’s good on the ball, unafraid to take on opposing defenders, and can finish as well as any player on the team after his goal against Minnesota. He absolutely has the talent to back up his price tag. However, as an 18-year-old, it’s important for him to not feel like he has to carry the team to wins every match. We have enough quality players for that not to be necessary. Ideally, expectations will be held in check because personally I feel Barco’s best years are ahead of him. However, I understand the desire to see MLS’ most expensive player ever prove his worth.

Injury Report

Ezequiel Barco (right quad strain) Jon Gallagher (ankle injury) Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez (hip contusion – questionable)

Manager

AUFC are lead by Gerardo “Tata” Martino. Tata has an impressive history as a player and manager. As a player he starred as and attacking midfielder for Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina, playing a club record 505 fixtures. As a manager he has helmed legendary side FC Barcelona in La Liga, and headed international sides Paraguay and Argentina. As a manager Martino prefers to play attacking football with a very high press. He likes creative midfielders to play close in support and short passing.