5 Five Stripes Thoughts: A respectful rivalry blooms in the Bronx

Mike Conti
June 11, 2018 - 10:46 am
Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan

© Chris Bergmann-USA TODAY Sports

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If Atlanta United and New York City FC are drawn into the Eastern Conference Finals, sign me up. These two clubs are a beautiful combination of high quality and complimentary styles. Twice now, they have played what could end up being a Top Five Match of the year in MLS. Best of all, I get a genuine sense that these clubs have a healthy respect for each other. Here are my five thoughts on Saturday’s match, and what’s to come Wednesday in Columbus.

1. We’ve taken Brad Guzan for granted. I actually saw a Twitter poll after Wednesday’s US Open Cup game asking if Alec Kann should replace Guzan in net. Kann has been very good in his two games played with the first team this year, but Guzan has the ability to play at another level like he did on Saturday. Yes, the woodwork bailed him out a few times. But Guzan’s best play Saturday wasn’t even a save, it was a beautiful tackle on Maxi Moralez in the first half to wipe out a chance. It was the same split-second decision that Guzan made in the Kansas City match, but this time he guessed correctly.

2. The loss of Miguel Almiron left a huge void. Atlanta United could not get out of its half of the field Saturday in the second half, and I think a major reason was Almiron’s absence. So many times this year, we’ve seen Almiron on the receiving end of a clear that he can quickly turn in to a counter. I can think of maybe two good counters for Atlanta United once Almiron left the game. I also thought Mikey Ambrose was left in a tough spot once he lost his ability to connect with Almiron down the left. Almiron’s shoulder injury is not believed to be serious, and I sure hope he can play Wednesday in Columbus.

3. Schedule compression may be starting to take its toll. I thought the Five Stripes looked tired at the end of Saturday’s match and were holding on for dear life. Ezekiel Barco, especially, looked fatigued and had to be subbed out. This is certainly understandable considering some players have played 360 minutes in a ten day stretch. This was the danger in playing a first choice lineup against Charleston, though I believe the risk was acceptable. There’s now one final challenge for the physio staff this week before a well-earned week off.

4. Just when things couldn’t seem any more difficult, here comes Columbus. The Crew are playing extremely well and could get reinforcements back Wednesday with Zack Steffan and Wil Trapp, who both have been on National Team duty. Gyzai Zardes is a certifiable MVP candidate this year. But the biggest challenge of all in playing at Columbus could be generating energy in front of a mostly empty stadium. This was a struggle for the Five Stripes in Foxborough last Wednesday and it could be again this week.

5. This club has figured something out on the road. What exactly that is, I’m not sure. But 14 out of a possible 21 points on the road speaks for itself. I get the sense these guys truly love each other and play for one another, and maybe being in a hostile environment galvanizes them. Or maybe not. Whatever it is, it’s working. The next two road games (Columbus and Dallas) will be grinders.