Andrew Carleton

Eric Rossitch / Atlanta United

5 Five Stripes Thoughts: 6 points at home sounds all right

Mike Conti
March 19, 2018 - 10:24 am
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Unquestionably, Vancouver Whitecaps did all they could to get themselves blown out on Saturday night.  They left their leading scorer, Kei Kamara, home in Canada after he suffered a groin injury.  And their most dangerous set piece threat, Kendall Waston (who scored twice against Atlanta United last year) was red-carded in the 13th minute for a shot to Leandro Gonzalez Pirez that would have made Stone Cold Steve Austin proud.

That said, good teams still need to convert when opportunities are presented, and that’s pretty much what Atlanta United did Saturday night in their 4-1 rout of Vancouver.  The Five Stripes came away from their two-game homestand with six points and are in third on the Eastern Conference table.  Atlanta United did what all Supporter’s Shield contenders need to do, win every possible match at home. 

Here are my five thoughts on Saturday’s match:

  1.  This team has scored seven goals WITHOUT Barco.  Imagine what happens when the 18 year old phenom is finally available for selection, which could be possible as soon as the next match at Minnesota.  Barco is a transformative player that will surely prove why he was worth an MLS-record $15 million transfer fee.  You don’t pay that much to leave someone out of the starting XI.  So it will be intriguing to see how Tata Martino manages his lineup from this point forward.  Atlanta United is really clicking now in the attacking third.  Will it be disruptive to move a Julian Gressel or even Tito Villalba out of the starting XI to make room for Barco?  Or is there a way to keep everyone in the starting XI?
  2. Forget having a man advantage, passing at a 93 percent accuracy rate is crazy.  A lot of that had to do with the great matches played by Gressel and Darlington Nagbe.  Gressel’s well placed ball into the box produced an own goal by Vancouver’s Aaron Maund.  I felt Nagbe did a great job dribbling through space and distributing to Almiron.  To complete over 90 percent of over 600 passes is just one indication of the statistical dominance Atlanta United had in the match.  Going over 70 percent in possession, while less of a surprise because of the way Vancouver plays, is another symptom of that. And perhaps most importantly, Atlanta United didn’t give up too many set piece opportunities that could have really hurt them.
  3. I get the feeling the plan for Andrew Carleton may be changing.  Carleton got his longest run in an MLS match with about 20 minutes played, and notched his first professional assist on a lovely cross to Martinez that was headed in for his hat trick goal.  A few weeks ago, I would have thought that Carleton was looking at a lot of time with Atlanta United II at the number 10 position, so he could get seasoning and build confidence.  Now it is clear that Carleton must be available for selection in MLS matches.  He is just too good to leave out of the mix.  Carleton will spend the next week in Europe playing with the USMNT U20’s.  This should only provide more opportunities for his confidence to blossom. 
  4. This team is building chemistry.  You never like to see a melee break out at the end of a match, but I like the fact that the Five Stripes were standing up for each other after Felipe’s needless hard challenge on Nagbe at the full time whistle.  This was a chippy match, and Atlanta United certainly did not back down when there were incidents.  The fact that teammates are willing to jump in to scrums to defend each other is a sign that these men really like each other.  Chemistry can often take far too long to develop.  It looks to me like the Five Stripes are already there.
  5. This is a good time to have a week off.  That’s not to say that this is a vacation week for Atlanta United.  The team will continue to train.  Almiron will join the Paraguay national team for a friendly with the USMNT in North Carolina.  As mentioned, Carleton is off to Europe, as is Chris Goslin.  But the fact that there will be no match this coming weekend is fortunate for Atlanta United.  I was very concerned to see the injury to Franco Escobar at the end of the match Saturday, not just because he had to be stretchered off the field, but because Atlanta United can ill afford an injury to an already-thin back line.  Take the week to get Escobar and Barco healthy, along with anyone else who may not be at 100 percent health-wise.  Minnesota United is feeling awfully good about itself after stringing together a couple of wins.  The match against the Loons the night before Easter is suddenly looking a lot more interesting.
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