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Earlier this week, we opined — many on the Revs’ hashtag did, too — that Atlanta United would come into this weekend with a scaled-back lineup. After all, the Five Stripes are in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and they have an important return engagement with Philadelphia in three days’ time.
But what if — and I’m just spitballing here — this past Tuesday’s 3-0 Union victory changes new Atlanta coach Gabriel Heinze’s thought process a little bit? What if he doesn’t think it feasible to score four away goals at Subaru Park, especially given who DOOP have guarding the onion bag? Could that deficit change how AUFC approach Saturday’s game at New England (7 p.m., WSBK myTV38, myRITV)?
If it does, the Revolution may find Saturday’s contest more difficult than originally anticipated. Then again, even if Heinze’s thoughts don’t change and it’s full systems go for the midweek clash in Chester, Atlanta will still be a handful for The Boys In Blue.
First, Atlanta is rather dynamic in the way it attacks. Unlike some teams in MLS who’ll stick to their channels in attack, i.e. left back staying as far left as possible, right back staying as far right as possible, expect Atlanta to do differently. For example, during our film review of Tuesday’s 3-0 defeat to the Union, we watched as left back George Bello — who has good pace and a burst of acceleration in the attacking third — got inside on the counter with Alan Franco, the left center back, moving outside. This is a team that will move to create space and give itself the ability to pass, shoot, and combine.
Jürgen Damm at the No. 11 position likes his left foot and shows a great deal of patience in the attacking third.
New No. 10 Santiago Sosa controls everything. He will move back all the way to the defensive line to receive the ball, then distribute from there. Atlanta under Heinze utilizes the long ball over the top in order to break lines, so the Revolution defense will have to be ready to win the coming 50/50 ball and then the ensuing second ball.
And should that happen, New England has to be ready for Atlanta to press, generally with a two-man line of contention. It will look to press hard with swift close-downs in an effort to create turnovers. It is also rather disciplined in terms of its defending in the midfield; while aggressive, they didn’t foul much. They do like to defend and push the midfield out to the flanks, or at least did in the last two matches.
But if there’s one thing about Atlanta United that can hamper its performance Saturday, it will be the defending. Never mind about Brad Guzan, the former short-term No. 1 US international. He can be beaten.
Against Philadelphia, Atlanta played in an aggressive manner to try and pin the Union in their own half. But when Philadelphia created a turnover, the defending was caught too far up the pitch, and a long ball to Kacper Pryzbylko unlocked them on a few occasions. The Revolution can not be afraid of going this route to pick out Gustavo Bou or Adam Buksa to get their vicious counterattacks started.
And while the black line will keep its shape well, the goal Chicago scored on it last Saturday was a case of the Five Stripes flailing at a cross and not getting turned around quick enough to stop the attack. They found themselves beaten blind side at the far post, and Chicago had leveled the match with a one-timer.
And it needs to be said: Josef Martinez is back and healthy following his ACL injury a year ago. He received about 23 minutes against Chicago, where his first touch came in helping to dispossess Robert Beric. He immediately sent a long ball over the top of Ezequiel Barco in a solid attempt to counter, but Marcelino Moreno’s sitter found itself blasted wide of Bobby Shuttleworth’s net.
And if there’s one thing Atlanta can do very, very well, it’s stretch your defense with plenty of positive passes.
Around The League
The Red Bulls and Chicago get us underway Saturday afternoon beginning at 1 p.m., before Real Salt Lake hosts Sporting Kansas City an hour later. Two matches during the 3 p.m. hour as Montreal hosts Columbus before Houston hosts LAFC (3:30 p.m., Univision/TUDN).
The rest of Saturday sees Orlando City hosting FC Cincinnati, Philadelphia hosting NYCFC, FC Dallas hosting Portland, Minnesota United hosting Austin, and San Jose hosting DC United.
On Sunday, Nashville will host Inter Miami (1 p.m., ESPN), Seattle with host LA Galaxy (9 p.m., FS1), and Vancouver hosts Colorado to wrap up the weekend in the American top flight.
In USL Championship
The second division gets our weekend started tonight, with Hartford Athletic traveling to Montclair, NJ to play Red Bulls II starting at 7 p.m. Two other matches tonight feature West Coast teams, and there is a full slate on Saturday.
In USL League One
No Revs II this weekend, but there are three matches on the docket as Greenville hosts North Texas, South Georgia hosts Tucson, both on Saturday, and Fort Lauderdale hosts Richmond Sunday.
In the NWSL
It’s the last weekend of the Challenge Cup group stages. In the East, North Carolina hosts Orlando on Saturday, while Gotham FC hosts Racing Louisville on Sunday. Three points separate first-place Gotham (7 points) with third-place Orlando (4 points), with North Carolina at 6. It will be interesting to see that Saturday result especially if there’s only a draw.
In the West, it’s all sorted with Portland advancing thanks to a four-point advantage. Houston hosts Portland Sunday, while Kansas City plays OL Reign of Seattle on Monday.