After a slightly frustrating midweek draw in Colorado, Orlando City will hit the road once again to try to get back to winning ways. Next up is a trip up to Georgia to take on Atlanta United.
Ahead of this one I spoke to David McFarland, one of the contributors over at SBNation’s Dirty South Soccer. As always, David did an excellent job of helping us get reacquainted with Atlanta United.
Thiago Almada was the big signing for Atlanta during the off-season. How has he performed so far?
David McFarland: Almada is full of quality, but so far he resembles a super-talented Ezequiel Barco rather than Miguel Almiron. Almada has shown flashes of his immense potential but his end product isn’t always there and he has just three goals and four assists in 16 games. I still think he’ll reach stardom before too long — he’s too talented not to — but so far the 21-year-old hasn’t quite put it all together.
Atlanta has had some difficulties this season, and last week Josef Martinez laid the blame for those troubles at the feet of everyone from the players to the front office. Was that a fair assessment, or would you highlight one area in particular as the reason for some of this season’s results?
DM: Josef was spot on with that outburst. Ever since the 2018 championship, the squad has been ripped apart, and key players and fan favorites have left for flashy young South Americans that aren’t put in a position to succeed, thanks to a number of coaching failures and a lack of an overall plan. The common thread in all this is the front office. Technical director Carlos Bocanegra deserves the majority of the blame and a list of his transfer misses would be pages long. And to add the cherry on top, the club signed him to a contract extension last January. *sigh*
It has to be said, however, that the circumstances for 2022 are a bit different, though far from an excuse for the limp performances week after week. Atlanta’s starting goalkeeper (Brad Guzan), center back (Miles Robinson), and defensive midfielder (Ozzie Alonso) are all out for the season, while both starting fullbacks and the primary backup have missed months. That offers some explanation for the constant stream of defensive errors coming from Atlanta’s back line, but the Five Stripes’ woes run far deeper — for one, first time head coach Gonzalo Pineda is still learning the ropes and that’s shown.
Atlanta is hardly out of the playoff race right now though, and there’s still a little under half the season to play. What needs to change for the Five Stripes to finish above the line in 2022?
DM: Since this is MLS and anything is possible, I think a playoff appearance is far from out of the question for the Five Stripes. Atlanta has made some moves to stabilize the back, bringing in Mexican center back Jose Juan Purata and keeper Raul Gudino. Purata looked solid in his first start Wednesday and is probably the club’s best defender. The hope is that he and Gudino (who hasn’t debuted yet) will fix Atlanta’s biggest weakness and put less pressure on the attack to score three goals a game just to get a result. Atlanta still could use some midfield help as well, but that might have to wait until the winter. So yeah, if Atlanta stays healthy, limits mind boggling mistakes from its defensive game, and gets the ball to the incredibly talented attack, there just might be a chance of a postseason berth.
Will any players be unavailable to injuries, suspensions, etc? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
DM: Funny you say that…Guzan, Robinson, Brooks Lennon, Andrew Gutman, Ronald Hernandez, Ozzie Alonso, and Emerson Hyndman are all sidelined with injury.
Atlanta went with a back three in its midweek win over RSL and that should stick, so I expect a 3-4-3 shape.
Rocco Rios Novo; Alan Franco, George Campbell, Jose Juan Purata; Caleb Wiley, Franco Ibarra, Matheus Rossetto, Aiden McFadden; Thiago Almada, Josef Martínez, Luiz Araujo.
As for prediction, I’ll go with a 2-2 draw. Both teams have their fair share of problems at the moment leading to a back-and-forth rivalry draw.
As always, thank you to David for an insightful update on Atlanta United. Vamos Orlando!