Matt Ralph, Brotherly Game: After taking the league by storm in the first couple months, May appears to have been a somewhat challenging month for Atlanta and they come into the game Saturday winless in three of their last four games. What’s going on with the team right now and what’s changed in their form?
Haris Kruskic, Dirty South Soccer: Atlanta had a tough time finishing on Wednesday against New England and got the short end of the stick with officiating on a couple different occasions against Sporting KC and NYRB.
If you ask the players and Tata Martino, they see their finishing as a non-issue at the moment and are more focused on controlling possession throughout a match. I don’t necessarily agree with it being a non-issue against New England since Atlanta has had similar issues throughout the season, but it’s still a little too early to say that it’s holding us back entirely. As the standings show, it certainly isn’t. The finishing is just something to nitpick.
As for the officiating, don’t bring it up around Martino because he will certainly go on a tangent about it. However, the players are trying to move on as best as they can from it.
Year one was obviously a big year for soccer in Atlanta. Does it feel like the momentum is continuing to grow? Is it safe to say that Atlanta is a soccer town more than it is a sports town now?
It’s hard to tell if the momentum is “continuing to grow” just because we’re still seeing similar numbers in terms of attendance from last season, which is really good overall but doesn’t really tell you a whole lot in terms of club growth. The passion is still definitely there though and season ticket holder number are up by about 5,000 from last season.
I’m of the opinion that Atlanta has always been a soccer town, but now they just have a team that allows them to showcase their passion for the sport.
The big name players obviously get a lot of attention on Atlanta’s team. Who are the players who don’t get talked about a lot that are key to the team’s success on the field?
Even though he’s still getting back into the swing of things after sustaining another leg injury, Tito Villalba is a very pacy forward that adds another element to Atlanta’s already lethal attack. Although he used to be a Designated Player, I feel like Villalba’s still largely overlooked and seen as “the other guy” when compared alongside Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, and Josef Martinez.
It’s been a bit of a weird season for him so far. Since Tata Martino began implementing a 3-5-2 to compliment Atlanta’s typical 4-3-3, Villalba has started less often simply because Martino prefers Julian Gressel to play the wingback role that demands more defensive duties. This has obviously resulted in less consistent starts and minutes for Tito. However, when Atlanta comes out in the 4-3-3, I think his combination of speed and precise runs off the ball makes it a long day for any opposing backline.
What do you think the key will be for Atlanta to start June on the front foot and bring the Union back down to earth after four straight games without a loss?
Just control possession and take advantage of the clear scoring opportunities presented to them. That’s literally it. This shouldn’t insult Union fans. I just think as long as Atlanta can do those two things, they beat the majority of MLS teams with relative ease.
Any injury updates/suspensions? What are your lineup and score predictions?
Injuries: Greg Garza is out, Tito Villalba is questionable
Lineup prediction (3-5-2): Guzan, Pirez, Parkhurst, Escobar, McCann, Gressel, Larentowicz, Nagbe, Almiron, Martinez, Barco
Score prediction: 2-0 Atlanta
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