Atlanta United's struggles continue with laborious win over MLS's worst team

Atlanta United picked up its second win of the season with a 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids, but there were few positives to take away from the game other than the three points, which moved the Five Stripes out of the Eastern Conference basement into 10th place.

The win was Atlanta United's first in four games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season and it came against the worst team in MLS. The winless Rapids allowed 17 goals in their previous five games, the only goal the allowed on Saturday came in the 74th minute when Julian Gressel beat two defenders to the near post, where he poked his right foot at the ball and it glanced off the left post and into the net.

The Rapids held on until then by parking the bus, or as Atlanta United coach Frank de Boer insisted, by parking two buses in front of their goal.

“You always need two teams to try and play football," said de Boer, "but tonight there was only one. We tried to win the game. It’s hard in international football and here when team’s play like this. You have to have a fantastic day, even the bigger teams in Europe have problems against teams that play this kind of system. They park two buses in front of their own goal."

Whether the Rapids parked one bus or two buses, it ignores the reality that there is something seriously wrong with Atlanta United. For the Five Stripes' first two seasons, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and before it Bobby Dodd Stadium rocked. Atlanta United was the first MLS team to score 70 or more goals in back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018,

After it became clear Argentine coach Tata Martino wouldn't be returning, Atlanta United president Darren Eales said the ideal candidate to replace Martino would be someone who could implement the Five Stripes' attacking style.  Since de Boer has taken charge, Atlanta United has become tentative and struggled in most games to break down opponents, and it's last in MLS with just six goals scored.

The problems have been personified by Pity Martinez's slow start. He was named the 2018 Rey de America after leading River Plate to the Copa Libertadores title, but he doesn't have a goal or assist in six MLS appearances. An injury picked up while playing for Argentina in March has slowed Martinez down. Saturday's game was his first start in six weeks, and he was not a happy camper when de Boer subbed him in the 72nd minute and the match was still scoreless.

Martinez was signed to replace Miguel Almiron, who was transferred to Newcastle United, but he has failed to link up with 2018 MLS MVP Josef Martinez like Almiron did with the Venezuelan.

"Maybe it wasn’t his best game," said de Boer, "but it doesn’t matter. It was his first start in a long time. He has to get used to the surface and style of play in MLS. He’s our No. 10 normally, and we want him close to Josef Martinez. They have a good combination, and hopefully in the future, we will see a lot more of that combination play."

14 comments about "Atlanta United's struggles continue with laborious win over MLS's worst team".
  1. Gary Levitt, April 28, 2019 at 7:59 a.m.

    The comments from de Boer is normal 'toting the line'.  Pity is out of place in de Boer's system, which at times calls for high pressure and closing down the opponent in their half of the field. Pity 'not quite fit'?  No, it is more like Pity waiting for the transfer window to open.

  2. frank schoon, April 28, 2019 at 9:59 a.m.

    Having watched the last 2 games of Atlanta. Both were BORING and very frustrating watching "MLS"type of quality players, who if they played in Europe would be boo'ed off the field for their bad passing, thinking, and technical display.
    In both games Atlanta controlled the game and possession, while both opponents park the bus and hope for a breakaway. Dallas was successful in scoring in the first 12min and in the last 3 min.  but the remaining segment of the game it couldn't do anything. Colorado is a joke. Having seen Dallas strategy being successful other teams perhaps will look to play park the bus strategy as well against Atlanta.
    What de Boer is facing is that the majority of his players (that pertains to all of MLS) are not used to playing against teams who play "park the bus' for it requires a higher level of technique to combat it. Even in Internatioanl soccer as De Boer staes teams have difficulty playing against it.
    It took Cruyff a year to teach his 4-3-3 system to his Ajax players who had more skill and touch in their big toe than a MLS team combined. So I can understand what is facing the de Boer when you consider what he has to deal with. 

    When you play a high possession game, and be dominant and exciting it calls for the player to improve their accuracy in passing. Not only accuracy but speed of handling, passing, receiving ,positioning before and after the pass. Just in those qualifications many things can go wrong. I mean, just a simple cross of the ball ,today, is a joke, as far as  technique and accuracy goes. The average soccer fan today has no clue how bad the player skills are as compared to 50 years ago. I'm pulling my hair out what I see today. And we're suppose have a DA program to develop the  the technical skills of our've got to be kidding. DA, for me, stands for "Dead on Arrival" as far as improving player development. I'm under no illusion when it comes to US player development here.
    SA has column about ECNL vs DA which is all about "Control and Power". Two organizations who fighting each other over where the deckchairs should be placed on the "Titanic" ship of technique. The only reason these two organization have any "say so" is because we don't have a subculture of "PICKUP" soccer.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, April 28, 2019 at 11:08 a.m.

    Frank, I suspect that the problem is the lack of a strong base in fundamentals prior to age 14. A 6 year old that can play with 10 year olds. A 10 year old that can play with 14 year olds. A 16 year old that can play with seniors. That kind of player stands out despite their level of maturity, the opposite of early bloomers.

    It isn't just the absence of pickup play but also the absence of play in mixed-age groups. A general rule of thumb is that a weaker player will develop faster when mixed with better players. It insures that they are stretched by the play and provides examples of new ideas and skills.

    These thoughts aren't just based on soccer but basketball, hockey, tennis, and golf too. I just can't wrap my mind around "no pickup play". What a huge change in mentality in one generation. 

  4. frank schoon replied, April 28, 2019 at 11:58 a.m.

    BOB, subculture of pickup/mixed soccer is missing ,like you say. Yeah, you're right about the fundamentals but PICKUP/MIXED would do so much for the kids.

  5. Goal Goal, April 28, 2019 at 11:28 a.m.

    Frank you and BA hit the nail on the head.  Particularly BA with kids being taught the fundamentals.  

  6. frank schoon, April 28, 2019 at 11:52 a.m.

    The problem with Martinez is two fold. One, the other team are playing very defensively, park the bus, thereby not allowing Martinez no forward running space and he is forced to receive the ball with his back to goal, compounded by having 2 defenders in his back. He now has to turn and shoot the ball which takes longer. Two, he does not have Almeron who would draw defenders away from him space. Atlanta lacks a quality player like Almeron thereby the scoring threat is all on Martinez's shoulders. 
    With little space to operate, his back to the goal, it is of the utmost importance to receive "High Quality" passes, meaning accuracy, to the correct foot, timing, and speed. Of these factors, the MLS player have difficulty doing. Furthermore, Atlanta lacks a 3rd man off the ball movement when Martinez does receive a pass....this aspect is something that will come later.  Remember, It took Cruyff in his first year as coach of Ajax, to teach the 3-4-3 system to players, like van Basten, Koeman, Rykaard, who have more technical skill in their big toe than a combined team of MLS players.
    Martinez is forced to play a game that doesn't reflect his strength, which is the ball at his feet facing the goal. Instead, now he has to battle tall centerbacks for crosses, that are lousy to begin with. He is also not good with his back to the goal, he needs to be facing the goal, to be more effective. Now you see him often running , sliding ,attempting to reach for the ball...this is not his game!!!!  NEXT POST

  7. frank schoon, April 28, 2019 at 11:53 a.m.

    Breck Shea on the left flank is too slow, passingwise, ball handlingwise, thinking wise, speedwise, and lacks a fire in the belly. The only thing good is that he's leftfooted playing on the leftside. And Gressel has to do much better on the other flank
    Nagbe has improved a lot this season but his passes need to be faster combined with faster release and his passes never beat an opponent for he lacks creativity as far as passes go. He not only lacks the ability to make a quick give and goes with Martinez but also lacks  a good hard shot from the second line . If he had a hard shot, then Martinez would not be not have his back facing the goal but instead facing the goal ready to pounce on a secondary ball from the goalie.....
    In order for Martinez to face the goal he should play behind a pointman  , a Non-American, but South American who is good with quick give and go's in traffic with Martinez. 
    Better ,tricky wingers on either side with the ability of crossing near the endline is one way helping Martinez problem with tall centerback. Crosses from the endline forces the defenders not only to have their backs facing the attackers but also having to choose to either look at the ball or the man but can't do both. It would give the Atlanta attackers much more space in front of the goal.
    As far as plan B goes , De Boer should buy a tall English type of centerforward who is good in the air. Then place Martinez out wide ,drawing defenders out and creating more space in the middle. In this manner Martinez can break behind the defender or cross. This way De Boer would cover all contingencies. Wings the cross the ball bending away, allowing space for the secondary line to shoot, a tall centerforward for air ball and Martinez for the close in groundwork with the ball. This will open up more option for attack, and open the opponent's "park the bus strategy......

  8. frank schoon, April 28, 2019 at 12:38 p.m.

    Having watched the two Atlanta games and see  the opponents defensive strategy. I was totally BORED for one team didn't want to play soccer. The MLS needs to do something with this type of play. Realize soccer here is still in its infancy and we need to draw crowds and excitement to the game, this is why people come out to watch a Zlatan or a Rooney , they don't want to watch some team coming in play park the bus for 90 min. 
    Just like in the NBA the teams are not allowed to play zonal defense but man to man, I think the MLS should put the word out not to play park the bus. I can see if you have 15 or 10 min to go and  you want to hold on to a lead. But show up and come and play "park the bus" is not to our soccer....Any franchise that decides to play like that should not be put out of in the league or aare forced to invest in some good players.

  9. Bruce Murray, April 29, 2019 at 11:22 a.m.

    The simple way to break down the teams that park the bus is to whip crosses in between defenders. This allows attacking players to find spaces to run into and forces the defenders to have to adjust for the cross and be wary of the runs. Once that has been established the middle of the park will open up. It isnt really complicated. You can play all you want but well organized banks of four will turn you over and hit you on the break. For context, Spain ticki takaed themselves out of the world cup by teams who parked the bus on them. 

  10. frank schoon replied, April 29, 2019 at 12:34 p.m.

    Bruce , that's great theory, sounds good on paper and on your laptop.....You must be a licensed coach?   We are dealing here with MLS soccer type of players. I've seen Barcelona lose to Real Madrid when Mourinho introduced the Park the Bus strategy defense against Tike Taka Barcelona. It is not easy and it is very frustrating. Like De Boer stated ,"international teams have problems and difficulty with Park the Bus strategy and they have much better players than what the MLS offers....

  11. Bruce Murray, April 29, 2019 at 2:33 p.m.

    Frank.Yes I am a licenced coach and I played a bit myself so that is my experience on how to beat teams who are sat in and organized. Trying to play your way through organized banks of defenders will get you killed on the counter especially if the other group has pace. You also have to commit to getting it wide and whipping it in and you must have quality service from the flanks. 

  12. frank schoon replied, April 29, 2019 at 3:59 p.m.

    Bruce ,If you read my comments above , I explain how you might be able to do it, but obviouly it is no guarantee..but that's nature of soccer.
    The problem today is that very few players can cross the ball which is more a technical problem, but the worse it is the trend of soccer today for outside backs to cross who don't have the expertise. Furthermore like at Ajax the outside backs were former wingers who couldn't make the grade to start as a winger but at least they can cross the ball and had good one on one skills. And another problems with crosses today is that it has become a lost art for most wings today are told to go inside further clogging things up...Any crosses you see today are so bad.
     ,e Boer is right when he stated that teams internationally have problems with this system and it is not as willy nilly easy as you have experienced on a lower level

  13. Bruce Murray, April 29, 2019 at 4:52 p.m.

    I have experienced playing at a high level and played all the big club teams and national teams all be it back a few years. I playeed for the USMNT 1985-1993. Getting it wide and getting crosses in is the solution. In fact they dont even need to be accurate, just for the defenders to have to deal with the runners and the danger of the ball when it hits the ground. managers are stubborn and resistent to change. Sometimes they dont have the players to carry out the style of football that they want to play. if I was De Boer I would give it a shot. Being frustrated and blaming the other teams for not wanting to play as De Boer is doing isnt the solution. I will give you an example Wimbledon of the late 80's and early 90's would launch it in from all over the field and John Fashanau would knock it down and Wimbledon was tough to play against. That style beat Liverpool in the FA Cup when that was a big competition. Teams eventually choked off service from the flanks from players like Warren Barton, Terrry Phelan etc; and Wimbledon were forced to play and they couldn't. The game at the top level Frank is about trying to impart your style but if it isnt working you need to have a solution and then execute it properly. Just my two cents. I appreciate the conversation.

  14. frank schoon replied, April 29, 2019 at 6:10 p.m.

    I understand Bruce, but there are a lot more complexities especially in today's soccer as compared to when you played, for example the defense is much more organized as a unit today then when you played. The difference being between day and night and compound that with lesser technical skills of the players today. 
    If parking the bus was that easy to beat we wouldn't even have a discussion. You mentioned Wimbledon and I remembered them actually causing a lot of problems to teams with their simplistic play.  The antidote you mentioned  fits the English style more so and therefore in England it's not unheard of seeing a lower division team beating a top level team due to the simplistic nature of their style of play. Your solution definitely stands a better chance in England.  
     Atlanta, doesn't have the players to play that type of ball and neither do the other MLS teams for most attackers are of a smaller stature, made up of hispanics.
    BTW, I trained Hal Zabrowski when he came to play with you at Clemson.
    Good Luck to you Bruce....

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