5 Five Stripes Thoughts: An answer is needed soon to solve the Red Bull puzzle

Mike Conti
October 01, 2018 - 10:42 am
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan

© Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

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NEW YORK — I hope our hardcore soccer readers will allow me to offer a college football simile when it comes to Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls.

Two weeks ago, Oklahoma was dragged into an overtime game with Army. They won, but Army outplayed them. Oklahoma’s roster is vastly superior to Army. But Army plays a system that is both unfamiliar and uncomfortable for Oklahoma. In fact, the triple option is poison for an Oklahoma team that has fast drives and wants its offense to have as many possessions as possible.

Atlanta United has still never beaten New York Red Bulls. I don’t feel it’s because Atlanta United has less talent than New York Red Bulls. I think it’s because the Red Bulls play a system that perfectly neutralizes the way Atlanta United wants to play. As yet, Tata Martino has not come up with the solution. He needs to. Because it is almost certain the Red Bulls stand in Atlanta United’s way to win MLS Cup.

Here are my five thoughts on Sunday’s 2-0 loss in New York:

1. Atlanta United has played worse than this. I saw more than a few “worst performance of the season” tweets at the full time whistle Sunday. I respectfully disagree. This was nowhere close to the nightmare in Houston. I actually think the performance in San Jose was worse than this. One has to account for the quality of the opponent. But there’s also the reality that New York Red Bulls scored on a penalty and a broken play. Atlanta United even had a stretch of about 25 minutes in the second half where they dominated play. New York Red Bulls deserved the win, but I think some of the hometown critiques of the Five Stripes have been a tad harsh.

2. This match will refresh concerns about this team’s conversion rate. Twice, Atlanta United had a player in alone on the keeper (Almiron and Vasquez), and in both cases, there was nothing on the finishing end. Scoring chances come infrequently against a frenetic club like Red Bulls, so those opportunities need to be cashed in when they exist.

3. We now know Brad Guzan can save a penalty. He had not done so in an Atlanta United shirt until late in Sunday’s match, when he stoned Kaku from the spot. It may be insignificant, but to me, it gives me a lot of comfort knowing that he’s done it should the situation arise again in the postseason. Speaking of penalties, I thought referee Robert Sibiga missed a clear penalty drawn by Miguel Almiron that would have likely sent Josef Martinez to the spot in the first half.

4. George Bello may be about to get another start. Chris McCann will be suspended for the New England Revolution match due to Yellow Card accumulation. Greg Garza did travel to New York but was left out of the lineup, which signals to me that he is not quite match fit yet. That may lead to another home start for George Bello on Saturday. If Bello had a tad more experience, he would have been a candidate to start in New York. As I have said before, Atlanta United is now suddenly deep at left back with Garza, Bello, McCann and Jose Hernandez. McCann may, in time, end up being the odd man out.

5. Here’s how things stand for the Shield. Atlanta United still controls its own destiny with three matches to play. Any combination of nine points earned by Atlanta United and nine points dropped by Red Bulls gives the Shield to Atlanta. Red Bulls close out with matches at San Jose and Philadelphia and a home match against Orlando. I wouldn’t be shocked if they dropped points in at least one of those. But I also think it’s likely Atlanta United will have to win out against New England, Chicago and Toronto to claim the Shield, and I worry about needing a win in Toronto on the last day of the season. By the way, CONCACAF Champions League qualification requires only four Atlanta United points in their last three matches.