Atlanta United, dominating, confident and happy again

Few expected that defending MLS champion Atlanta United, last in the Eastern Conference as late as the final week of April, would still be in the basement three months later.

But the Five Stripes' climb into first place, which they completed on Sunday night with a 2-0 win at Portland, has been remarkable.

Four days after beating Club America, 3-2, to win the Campeones Cup, Atlanta United dominated the Timbers, getting goals from Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Josef Martinez to win its seventh game in its last eight matches covering all competitions.

Atlanta United moved ahead of the Philadelphia Union into first place thanks to the first tiebreaker (total wins) and should remain there if it keeps up its current form.

Less than four weeks ago, Atlanta players were complaining at the All-Star Game how they'd been put in shackles by first-year coach Frank de Boer. The rift between Argentine star Pity Martinez and de Boer had been a running story almost since Martinez's arrival from River Plate, which he helped win the 2018 Libertadores Cup.

All that seems like a distant memory.

The Atlanta attack has been playing confidently. Josef Martinez's goal to start the second half marked the 11th straight MLS game he has scored at least one goal, adding to his MLS record. Atlanta United fired off 19 shots against the Timbers and would have scored more goals but for the errant shooting of Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez.

"I think we feel fully deserved to win," said de Boer. "Of course, the first half it could also be three for us, but I think the second half we have to really punish them more. We scored a really fantastic goal, the second one, and then we had like three, four opportunities to make it 3-0 and then is the game over."

The reinvigorated attack has benefited from the play of Justin Meram at left wing back since his acquisition from Columbus on May 7. He already has three goals for Atlanta United, more than he had in the last season and a half with Orlando City and Columbus, where he spent his first seven MLS seasons.

A big reason for Atlanta United's success is the stability of its defense, which has allowed just one goal in four games against MLS opponents since the All-Star break. Brad Guzan made five saves against Portland to post his league-leading 12th shutout of the season. Guzan's best save came in the second half when he reached out with his left hand to stop Julio Cascante's bullet header.

“That incredible save keeps you in the game or gives you the victory sometimes," said de Boer, "and from today it was a fantastic performance, I think.”

In his first season as a starter, 22-year-old Miles Robinson has been the most consistent defender. Like Robinson, Darlington Nagbe, once again excellent in central midfield, should get considerable consideration for a call-up for the USA's friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay in September.

Few teams can match Atlanta United in terms of its depth. Florentin Pogba has stepped in at center back for the injured France Escobar, and Jeff Larentowicz, a starter on last season's championship team, started in place of Eric Remedi, who was injured in the Club America match. Tito Villalba (20 goals in his first two seasons) made a late appearance against the Timbers, his first since injuring his knee in May.

"People are coming back," said de Boer, "so we can also rotate sometimes when we need it. It’s nice to see the great atmosphere in the team and the results help with it and we want to keep that, of course.”

13 comments about "Atlanta United, dominating, confident and happy again".
  1. Bob Ashpole, August 19, 2019 at 9:02 a.m.

    Nothing wins a coach the respect of players as much as winning.

    Guzan still looks pretty sharp.  

  2. beautiful game, August 19, 2019 at 10:44 a.m.

    Watched first half of this dynamic contest. Except for the player intensity and passion on the pitch, two negatives that keep re-appearing in these MLS games is that referees could care less about persistent fouling and off-the ball muggings. Another negative is the suffocating winded commentary of Stu Holden. His transition from a mediocre pro-player to a TV soccer commentator is a total failure.

  3. Alfred Randall replied, August 19, 2019 at 12:53 p.m.

    I disagree with the part about Stuart Holden being a 'mediorce pro-player'. At the time when Jonnie Evans (playing for Manchester United at the time) did Holden's knee (playing for Bolton) with a studs up foot and a half high tackle, Stuart Holden was the highest rated midfielder in the EPL. The foul was a straight red but he never got the knee back to full strength. The rating was statistically based not a popularity contest. 

  4. Kent James replied, August 20, 2019 at 3:19 p.m.

    Alfred, I agree.  Stuart Holden was one of the best midfielders the US had; I always enjoyed watching him on the national team.  I think he's also a good commentator.

  5. beautiful game, August 19, 2019 at 12:59 p.m.

    A.R., "...Stuart Holden was the highest rated midfielder in the EPL."  Really?  Watched him play for several years and he seldom made things happen.

  6. frank schoon, August 19, 2019 at 1:01 p.m.

    The win was good but the game was played naively, although it was exciting for the fans. There was way too much space between the lines and in the defense making the field very long, thereby creating a lot of long passes. I wasn't impressed with Atlanta's midfield, although on paper they had 4 midfielders but what really counts is what we had in the middle , only  2CM, which is not enough; we weren't dominant around midfield. 
    I don't trust Atlanta to play with 3defenders in the back and especially with Pogba. I''m not impressed with his postioning off the ball and he lacks also acceleration, moving in one tempo.
    With 3 defenders instead of 4 forces ,Marem, a good 1v1 technical player, a penetrator that can take the ball right into opponent's third, is forced to run up down and covering the flank and worse run back on defense to cover or help Pogba. That's not good, you don't make a player who is good with the ball run this much for that can only be detrimental for his offensive forays. In sum we allowed too much space forcing players to run too much.
    So much of the criticism can likewise be applied to Portland but they lack a Joseph Martinez. The leaque should ban the color green. How can any stand watching green colored players on a green field. Colors should stand out ,make a statement, showing you're there. As the leaque should get rid of astro turf ,likewise green jerseys...

  7. beautiful game replied, August 20, 2019 at 11:01 a.m.

    Good analysis for Pogba, he's a definite defensive liability...short on Soccer IQ.

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, August 21, 2019 at 11:12 p.m.

    Frank, it is solid green that is the problem. Green shorts and a 2-color shirt would be better. Such as whited with green sleeves. Makes you wonder who picks the uniforms.

    I am re-reading the Cruyff ABC book again. And enjoying it.

  9. frank schoon replied, August 22, 2019 at 6:50 a.m.

    Bob, Cruyff ABC book??????? Never heard of it.  I’ve been looking for a book I wanted you to read by Cruyff called “Voetbal” (Dutch) in English but I couldn’t find it. I wonder if this it?
    i learned a long time ago to re-read all my notes interviews and books of Cruyff and others because I learn new insights, or they were originally there but missed or I wasn’t ready to understand.
    I’m currently reading all the notes and interviews of Cruyff , his assistant , players of Barcelona and others during the the years of ‘93-‘94.  There was interesting interview with Micheal Laudrup when he Played for Barcelona’s “dream team”.
    Tell me when when that book was published and how many chapters did it have .
    Did it have a chapter on The leftmidfielder, likewise on rigtmidfielder, and one attacking midfielder....i’ve Been looking for this book in English language for quite few years...maybe this is  the one.
    BTW, I’m also looking through the book by David Winner, “The land of Orange” which has some excellent tidbits about total soccer. I don’t know if it’s in English but it was published in Holland 2001. 

  10. frank schoon replied, August 22, 2019 at 10:59 a.m.

    Bob, green shorts are fine, altough I prefer white socks but Jerseys, no!. I can live with an Ajax type of jersey, white with green stripe in middle...Yeah, you're right who thinks up these uniforms.
    Cruyff believes in a color that is strong,not faded, white shorts , for it makes you appear bigger and  white socks ,making you appear faster....

    Oh, btw, I do have Cruyff ABC ( ajax ,barcelona, Cruyff) . I got confused ,thinking it was the abc's of soccer....I guess it isn't printed in English and I don't know why for that is really the book you want read for he breaks everything down....

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, August 22, 2019 at 1:26 p.m.

    I found the book in English after you recommended it a while back.

    The explanation I was thinking about yesterday concerned the midfield selection when playing with 2 up front instead of 3. That (442) has to be a rare subject for him.

  12. frank schoon replied, August 22, 2019 at 3:18 p.m.

    He doesn't like 4-4-2 for a quite a few reasons. One , you can't pressure your opponent for there is always an open flank allowing the back to move up. Besides the front line is always outnumbered 4v2. With a 4-3-3 the 3 upfront block all three lanes or block the the attacking backs for they have beware of the attacking wings on the transistion.
    Two, the 4-4-2 does not have the triangles the 433 has fewer diagonal passes especially the flank.
    Furthermore the passing is made awkward for the 2central mids to the flanks for the outside mids are positioned to square.
    Three, although it looks like you have 4mids but in real practice you end up with 2central mids. For example, if the right midfielder goes down the wing to cross to the 2 strikers up front the left midfielder will move up as well for the second post availability. In the transistion to ball loss the 442 team automatically loses 4players up front, leaving 2 central mids, which is trouble,  and if one of the central mids has also moved up a little further to support the strikers for secondary ball then the midfield is in real trouble. In effect you have no midfield..
    Four, the 442 has fewer  lines (linies) than a 433 for back support. The more lines a team has the better you are defensively but also offensively for you not only have more back support but also better positioned for secondary balls. 
    For example in the 433, the number of lines is : the centerforward as one, the wings as two, the centerforward can be positioned in front or behing the wing lines. The third line are 2 outside halfbacks and central mid is the 4th line, the back line can have 3 or two depending how how positioned them. Cruyff when he coached had a totally of 7lines. With having that many lines the ball movement is much faster with more options. 
    Five , in the 442, the two strikers usually have their backs facing the goal upon receiving the ball whereas in 433 the front line will have be facing the player goal. Also the in the 433 there are more 3rd man off the ball options because of the more lines involved.
    Six, the outside halfbacks are not true wingers who lack the crossing expertise or 1v1 expertise attacking wingers. So in this situation you cut down more attacking option. 
    Seven, with 2 strikers up front they can also run to the flank to receive a pass with is not good because then when then get the ball they are further away from the goal facing the sideline. This runs counter to what a striker suppose to do.
    These are some of the reason Cruyff is not fan of the 442....

  13. Kent James, August 20, 2019 at 3:24 p.m.

    Atlanta did not "dominate" Portland.  That game could have gone either way.  While it was not always pretty, it was very exciting game, with end to end action, lots of good shots and great saves (Guzan's save on the header was spectacular).  I didn't have a horse in the race, but as a neutral fan, enjoyed the atmosphere, the commitment of the players and the excitement of the game. Never a dull moment...I thought the referee (and crew) did a pretty good job on a tough game, but I think Atlanta should have had a pk, but I think their 2nd goal was offside (I was suprised they didn't show a great angle for it, because even if it was onside, it was VERY close).

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