5 Five Stripes Thoughts: Atlanta United gets its wake-up call in Toronto

Mike Conti
October 30, 2018 - 10:07 am
Atlanta United FC forward Josef Martinez

© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports


TORONTO — The symmetry with which Atlanta United began and ended its 2018 regular season is striking.


5. Sunday’s disappointment aside, this was an incredible season. Atlanta United earned 69 points, set records for road wins, total attendance and had a 31 goal scorer. The bitter disappointment of what happened here Sunday will fade in time. Seasons like this do not happen often in MLS, and its a credit to New York Red Bulls that it took 71 points to win the Shield. It remains to be seen if Atlanta United has figured out how to solve the Red Bulls, but at least they will get that chance. Remember, there are no parades for winning the Supporters’ Shield. But there are parades for winning MLS Cup.

4. A conservative approach would be smart next Sunday. This goes back to my hypothesis about returning to the 3-5-2, since an added defender could give Atlanta United some extra cover in front of Guzan against New York City or DC United. In a two leg playoff series, a draw on the road is a great result. I would have no problem with Tata Martino trying to play for that draw and try to hit opponents on counters. Atlanta United knows it can earn a draw at Yankee Stadium (they’ve done it already), and I feel Atlanta United played better in DC than the 3-1 scoreline showed in September.

3. Josef Martinez is the MVP of the league, but maybe not his team. I feel pretty confident in saying Atlanta United has been out of sync since Miguel Almiron got hurt. It’s understandable because his work-rate cannot be replicated. But the domino effect of his absence on the lineup has jumbled up the midfield and may have ground the Atlanta United attack to a halt. Martinez’s 31 goals alone should make him the league’s MVP. But Almiron may be the most valuable player to his team.

2. This team isn’t out of gas, but they are banged up. I’ve seen more than a few suggestions that Atlanta United’s fitness is being challenged, and that their wide open, fast playing style is catching up with them. I agree that there are some small signs that this club is slowing down, but I think it’s more directly tied to injuries than fitness. In just the last month, we’ve seen significant injuries to Miguel Almiron and Tito Villalba, as well as training injuries to Andrew Carleton and George Bello. And those are only the injuries we know about. The club is at the point of the season where all of the knocks they have taken in matches and trainings may be catching up with them. They have to find a way to play through it.

1. It’s easy to overreact to a loss like this, but it’s the wrong approach. The fact is that Atlanta United has still won five of its last seven matches, and are unbeaten in 12 of their last 15. The system is not broken. It does seem that Atlanta United has played better out of the 3-5-2, even for a large portion of the match at Red Bull Arena, so a change back to that may be well advised. But I don’t feel that now is the time for dramatic lineup changes. One out-of-sync road performance does not mean it’s time to bench people. Every club goes through peaks and valleys over the course of a season. Fortunately, those valleys have been shallow for Atlanta United.

If Atlanta United bounces back in a similar manner this time, they will win the MLS Cup. But Sunday’s performance raises legitimate questions about those prospects. Here are my Five Thoughts:

Not long after that loss in Houston, several people associated with the club pointed out that the Dynamo gave them a wake up call. After that humiliation, Atlanta United went eight straight games without a loss.

In Toronto Sunday, Atlanta United ended the year in the same manner in which it began: giving up four goals on the road to a non-playoff team. One could argue they looked just as bad in Toronto as they did in Houston, if not worse.