Prekrap: Atlanta United vs. Philadelphia Union

The international break is nigh

Monte-xcellent at keeping defensive shape

Give Monterrey credit, they kept Atlanta United to one goal in the best game that the team has played against team that wasn’t in 9th place in the Costa Rican domestic league. Rayados didn’t exactly bunker, but they certainly didn’t want much to do with the ball. With 36.9% of possession the team was happy to let Atlanta try to break them down while they pushed forward and countered when they had the chance. Atlanta looked better but the Monterrey defense was terrific. Even when the Five Stripes were able to muster an attack in transition the back four of the visitors regained their shape quickly and shut down passing and shooting lanes. They did what they needed to do and advanced in the tournament along with the other remaining LigaMX teams.

Atlanta United Prekrap

That was more like it, it wasn’t quite it, but it was closer than it had been to being it. If Atlanta United played like it did against Monterrey against Cincinnati they would not be the “the best team to ever win MLS Cup and then draw their home opener to an expansion team with Corben Bone on the roster,” they would have ground their bones into dust. Alas that didn’t happen, but it could on Sunday against Philadelphia. If the players have the same energy and motivation that they did on Wednesday, Atlanta should be able to turn the would be chances and passes that Monterrey’s defense intercepted into shots on target and goals.

There have been growing pains for the Five Stripes under Frank de Boer but, without getting too carried away, the team showed glimpses of what it might look like if they can adopt his system. Ezequiel Barco can create and run at defenders through the midfield, he should make life very difficult Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin if he does that again Sunday. Pity Martinez was better, and the shot he corked off from distance was fantastic – one of those will find the back of the net sometime this season and will win goal of the year, though he looked completely gassed by the time he came off the field so perhaps he won’t start. If Pity doesn’t go, Tito Villalba may have an opportunity to run past an entire team again as Philly is still working out it’s press. Mikey Ambrose held his own at left back, which is more than can ever be said about Brek Shea this year, we will see who starts at left back and if his name is George Bello. Darlington Nagbe looked more confident on the ball going forward into the attack and the interplay he had with Josef Martinez on his goal is exactly what the team needs to do to exploit the “corridor of uncertainty.” Josef smashed home a roof shot – Andre Blake and the rest of the Union should be worried.

At least Philly signed Bryce Harper

If Atlanta United has struggled after a compressed offseason and packed three weeks to start 2019, the Philadelphia Union have been a mess. The team opened the year losing 3-1 to Toronto FC, who started Nick DeLeon at right wing and Jordan Hamilton at striker, making Michael Bradley look like Frank Lampard in the process. A good sign in that match was that fancy new designated player Marco Fabian scored a goal. He followed up that promising effort with a red card last week in Kansas City and Philadelphia will be without their attacking engine against Atlanta United.

Philly did make life difficult for SKC though, an early penalty put Sporting ahead and after Fabian’s red card in the 60th minute, the Union held strong until an own goal by Jack Elliot in the 80th put a comeback out of reach. Still, until Fabian’s red card their press was effective at creating transition opportunities and breaking up attacks from SKC. That press probably isn’t going anywhere against Atlanta United. The Five Stripes have had a hard time in the past against teams that don’t give them time on the ball and if Atlanta’s tired brains and legs aren’t ready for what the Union will bring, Philly will have a chance in the game – if they can actually finish their scoring opportunities.

Going Galaxy Brain

Maybe the good signs were a mirage and Monterrey did exactly what they wanted against Atlanta on Wednesday. If so, I have a new plan for Atlanta United, it’s based on recent news events:

This is possibly a corollary to the “Atlanta can be so bad it is good” thesis (I totally know what I’m doing and planned this out weeks ago and am not faking it) – Atlanta United is rich enough in talent that they can just fake it against the Philadelphia Union. They couldn’t do it against Cincinnati, but this is the week – roll the ball out there and let the big money players kick it past Andre Blake while Alejandro Bedoya has another seven foul game. Who needs tactics or a system or a manager who can implement it with exhausted players when you can just fake it?

Seriously, someone write a chant about it.

Sticking to reality

Atlanta has a really good chance to pick up their first win in MLS on Sunday. The team had nothing to lose on Wednesday, played like it, and that confidence should carry over against the Union. With Marco Fabian out, the best creator for the visitors will probably be Medunjanin, their best defensive midfielder. Whatever lineup the Union put together, they will have a problem either in attacking or defensive midfield and Atlanta United should be able to exploit that by easily containing the Union attacks or tearing through the middle of the pitch. If Franco Escobar is able to start, and Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez has worked out his typical early season foibles, the backline will also get a boost. Atlanta should be well motivated to get a win ahead of the international break and there’s every reason to think they’ll give the home fans reason to feel spoiled again.