The quick turnarounds continue for Orlando City as the team travels north to take on Atlanta United tomorrow. The Lions will try to bag a first ever win over the Five Stripes, and continue the winning ways they got back to against Nashville SC.
Ahead of this one I sat down with David McFarland of SBNation’s Dirty South Soccer, and he was kind enough to let us know how Atlanta’s season has been going. I also answered some of his questions, which you can find over at their place.
Quite a lot was made of Atlanta’s results during the MLS is Back Tournament. What do you believe was the biggest reason behind Atlanta’s short stay at the tournament?
David McFarland: There are quite a few options to pick from, but Frank de Boer is the guiltiest. Last season the cracks were papered over thanks to the lingering effects of Gerardo “Tata” Martino, but Josef Martinez’s injury and poor signings in the off-season ripped the paper away. The static-ness in attack that Atlanta displayed was deeper than just the players on the field, however. De Boer’s preferred 3-4-3 was proven not to work last year in the Dutchman’s first season in charge, but it became apparent that he wouldn’t budge from it this time around. That formation somehow allowed Atlanta to be defensively shaky, get overrun in the midfield, and look completely out of ideas in the final third all at once. It really was spectacular. After the dreadful MLS is Back performance, the only course of action for Darren Eales and Carlos Bocanegra was to backtrack as quickly as possible.
Stephen Glass is currently the interim head coach while a replacement is found for Frank de Boer. It’s a small sample size, but how has the team looked so far under Glass? What seems to be the preferred style of play?
DM: Atlanta’s been in action for a sole 90 minutes under Glass, but the early returns were promising. There may not be a clear style just yet, but multiple aspects of Atlanta’s play were drastically better than what we saw earlier in the year. Offensively, the team looked rejuvenated and played with 10 times more energy than what we saw under de Boer. The 4-3-3 Glass implemented gave Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez much more attacking freedom, while the three-man midfield and back four gave the Five Stripes a solid defensive spine as well. If Glass stays in charge for the rest of the season, which is very likely, a more complex plan could be devised, but until then, going back to the basics is the best option.
What do you think Atlanta has done best this year? What is the strong point of this team?
DM: There’s been no standalone quality just yet. In the final third, lots of the goals have come from Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez, but going 270 minutes without finding the back of the net sort of cancels that out. The hope is that those two find their feet out from underneath de Boer, and Pity at least seems to be on that track already. Defensively, Atlanta may have only conceded one goal in each MLS is Back game, but each was due to a very avoidable error. All in all, it’s been quite up and down across the pitch, but some consistency under Glass should expose the biggest weaknesses, and strongest strengths.
Are there any injuries or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
DM: Franco Escobar is suspended by the disciplinary committee for an incident against Nashville, while center back Fernando Meza and Ezequiel Barco are injured. That leaves Atlanta a tad short at the back, but Glass still has a solid back four at his disposal. I’m sure you’re sad to hear Josef Martínez is out for the season, of course. As for the game, I think we’ll see a 1-1 draw. Just two points separate these teams, and that will show Saturday in a tight, even 90 minutes. I hope some of the rivalry flair we’ve been used to over the past few years makes an appearance too, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t considering the lack of fans.
Big thank you to Dave for all of the great info on Atlanta, and vamos Orlando!