Atlanta United were knocked out of the Concacaf Champions League on Wednesday after winning the second leg of their quarterfinal match-up with Monterrey 1-0. The lone goal wasn’t enough to overcome the 3-0 deficit they entered the night against and their first attempt to become kings of Concacaf has fallen short. Here are a few thoughts on an encouraging performance.
Not great … but definitely better
Frank de Boer implemented a subtle but effective tactical shift in this game. Instead of the usual 3-4-3 that he’s utilized the first five matches, he had Ezequiel Barco drop deeper and into a central position and pushed Josef and Pity Martinez up top together. The change almost paid immediate dividends as Barco played Josef in early in the match with a great throughball, but the striker’s attempt was well saved by the Rayados goalkeeper.
The new approach didn’t magically turn the attack into the juggernaut we’ve known and loved over the past two seasons, but it was certainly an improvement from what we saw earlier this year. Barco specifically had a role that suits his skillset. No matter what his history in Argentina says, he’s just not effective as a winger. We have a big enough sample size to come to that conclusion. However, when he’s in the center of the field, he can make things happen. Hopefully De Boer realizes that and this tactical tweak becomes permanent.
I supported anyone who boo’d Sunday’s dreadful performance and I still stand by that. But, if you’re going to boo the bad, you have to appreciate the good. While the overall result wasn’t what we all had hoped for, the team gave it a valiant attempt to overturn the massive deficit that faced them. If a chance or two had gone in, maybe it would be a different story. In the end it wasn’t to be but you have to appreciate the effort.
On the other hand, you have to give credit to Monterrey. They are a superb side and were clearly the better team in this tie. We’ve seen many sides get railroaded when they come to Atlanta, but they made it extremely difficult to attack. Lesser sides may have wilted under the pressure.
The Enigmatic Nagbe
Throughout all of Darlington Nagbe’s career people have wanted more from him. He’s an excellent technical soccer player with a delicate first touch and great mind for the game. The critics have always been vocal about him not offering a final product, whether that be the killer pass or the knack to finish. He proved in this match that he has the ability to unlock a defense. $30 million worth of players have been trying and failing to do what Nagbe accomplished with Josef Martinez on the lone goal of the game.
What a pass ✨ What a finish @JosefMartinez17 can’t stop scoring!
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) March 14, 2019
Nagbe combined with Josef on a beautiful play at the top of the box. The U.S. international controlled the ball in a tight space and played a perfect pass into the path of Josef. In a possession oriented style of play that’s what you need. I’m not sure how to accomplish this, but De Boer needs to find a way to get Nagbe into these positions more. Get him closer to goal and combining with Josef. This instance wasn’t the only time he accomplished this. The attack came to life when Nagbe pushed further up the field. Gressel got involved more. Josef became dangerous. It all seemed to fall into place. It’s frustrating that Barco and Pity can’t seem to get on the same page as the team’s main goal-getter but Nagbe seems to have figured it out.
MILES FREAKING ROBINSON
Another outstanding performance from the young center back. He went head to head with one of the best strikers in Concacaf and did brilliantly. There’s just no way he can be taken out of the lineup at this point. He has taken his opportunity and surpassed all expectations. Well done, Miles. Keep going.