MLS Closeup: Atlanta United gets ready for grind

That certainly was a glorious day for American soccer, MLS, and the game in Atlanta.

A 3-0 dismantling of FC Dallas and the grand unveiling of Mercedes-Benz Stadium made for a perfect re-birth of Atlanta United’s first season. AUSC scored three, hit the woodwork twice and overran its foes for the majority of the match.

Now it’s back to the grind, starting Wednesday with another home game against New England. It has already surpassed the amazing inaugural season attained by Seattle in 2009 as an expansion team in terms of attendance and local as well as national buzz. Emulating the 2009 Sounders by reaching the playoffs is the next short-term goal and prospects look good, and not mainly because AUSC plays seven of its last nine games at MBS.

The prospects are good because AUSC is a good team, tilted more towards attack than defending, yes, but backstopped by a national team keeper and solid pros across the back line, and -- if anything -- perhaps overloaded with pacy, menacing attackers. But so far, head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino has doled out the minutes justly, and one of the most important elements in any team is a starting lineup forged from talented, eager players competing to get on the field.

A letdown following such an emotional eruption wouldn’t surprise many observers, yet in building out the roster Martino and technical director Carlos Bocanegra stocked it with proven MLS veterans such as Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz to balance out its fleet of young international attackers. Defenders Leonardo Gonzalez Pirez and Greg Garza scored two of the goals, and by netting the other Josef Martinez upped his tally to 10 in just 12 games.

Only twice this season has Atlanta United played a midweek game following a weekend match; it lost, 2-1, at D.C. United and thrashed San Jose, 4-2, at home. Starting with the Revs, AUSC plays four straight midweek games without a break.

“I think we’re ready,” Parkhurst told the Atlanta United Web site after the team’s Tuesday training session. “We have a lot of young guys on this team that can bounce back quickly. It’s a lot easier to recover coming off a 3-0 win than any other result.”

AUSC is certainly used to scoring multiple goals in a game. It has scored at least three in a game eight times and its average of 1.88 per game is more than every team except juggernaut Toronto FC (2.11). Martinez and Hector Villalba are tied for the team lead in goals with 10; Miguel Almiron’s 11 assists is just one more than Yamil Asad.

And while most run-and-gun teams tend to let in a big number of goals as well as score them, AUSC’s 32 goals conceded is fewer than all teams except Sporting Kansas City (21) and TFC (26). U.S. international Brad Guzan in goal anchors the spine of a team that includes Parkhurst and Pirez in central defense and Larentowicz alongside standout rookie Julian Gressel in midfield.

Backloading home games can work out great, assuming the squad is deep and tough enough to plow through a thicket of matches, which is what Atlanta will do for the next three weeks.

Here’s a look at the remaining schedule, with games played/days in parentheses:
Sept. 10 –- Atlanta 3, FC Dallas 0.
Sept. 13 –- New England (2/4).
Sept. 16 -- Orlando City (3/7).
Sept. 20 –- L.A. Galaxy (4/11).
Sept. 24 –- Montreal (5/15).
Sept. 27 – Philadelphia (6/18).
Sept. 30 – at New England (7/21).
Oct. 3 – Minnesota United (8/24).
That’s a daunting run of games, as at least until the Philly contest, AUSC will be playing teams clawing and scratching to get into the playoffs. (Most of them won’t but that won’t lessen their ferocity.)

And if Philly and the Revs both hang tough during the month, there won’t be enough cold tubs and massage tables to treat all the bruised, tired limbs peeled off those five-striped jerseys and long, black socks.

“The training staff has done everything that we can yesterday and today to make sure the guys recover as well as they can,” Martino told through a translator. “I think it’s a little premature to be worried about recovery. With that said, they’ve done everything they can to recover as fast as possible.”

1 comment about "MLS Closeup: Atlanta United gets ready for grind".
  1. Gary Levitt, September 13, 2017 at 8:20 a.m.

    What you failed to mention:
    - the fan support at Mercedes Benz is outstanding and the players seem to react positively to the consistent level of noise in the building. This will help ATL UTD with their home matches.
    - Carlos Carmona, the unsung Chilean, sits along side Larentowicz, not Gressel. Carmona is a ball-winner and covers a tremendous amount of ground. Gressel now comes off the bench but with this crazy schedule due to the delays with Mercedes Benz, Gressel may see a start. All of you should attend a match at is quite the spectacle.

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