Atlanta United is too talented to let this fester

Mike Conti
March 11, 2019 - 9:38 am
Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez

© Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports


There is so much to ponder about Atlanta United’s confounding start, punctuated Sunday by a baffling 1-1 draw to expansion FC Cincinnati.

I’m not nuanced enough to try to explain why certain formations work better than others, or why certain elements of Atlanta United’s play has changed so much from year to year. All I can do is try to pick out some facts.

Fact: this team is too talented for this to get much worse. Nine players who featured in the MLS Cup Final played Sunday for Atlanta United. The Stripes are unanimously believed to have one of the best collections of individual talent in the league, if not the best. You cannot tell me that a team with the reigning South American Player of the Year (who is good enough to be called up to Argentina’s National Team), the reigning MLS MVP, four All Stars from 2018, and two finalists for 2018 Defender of the Year is going to languish in the basement all year. They will figure it out. It is just taking longer than expected.

Fact: The CONCACAF Champions League has been a tremendous burden. Atlanta United embraces the opportunity for global competition, but there is no doubt that the added travel and match congestion is hampering this team’s ability to get better. Take the last ten days for example. They have only been able to have a traditional full squad training session on two of those days, because of fixtures, travel and “regen” days where light work is given to those who played the night before. It is awfully difficult to get better, build connections and develop chemistry if you cannot practice.

Fact: two very key players are out. There is no star above the Atlanta United emblem if not for Franco Escobar, who was one of their most impactful players in the 2018 playoffs. He has not played one minute yet. George Bello has not played with the first team since Costa Rica, which has led to an unexpectedly heavy workload for Brek Shea. Fortunately, Bello played with ATL UTD II on Saturday and may be able to play against Monterrey on Wednesday. There is also hope that Escobar could be back this week.

Fact: this team is defending well. Sunday was yet another match where Atlanta United limited their opponent’s opportunities. So much so that Cincinnati had only one shot on goal, no second half free kicks, and no second half corner kicks. Aside from ten minutes in Monterrey when they ran out of gas, Atlanta United shut down Rayados in open play. DC’s two goals were off a third corner kick in 30 seconds (a sequence started on a bad call) and a funny hop where the ball skipped off a puddle and by Brad Guzan. Miles Robinson has been Atlanta United’s best player so far this season, and the back line is thriving as a result of his hard work.

Fact: the international break is coming. And man does this team need it. It does not sound like a large number of players are being called into National team camps. For those that are, perhaps the time away will be of value. Can it really be a bad thing for Pity Martinez to get some work in with Lionel Messi? For those that aren’t, this will be a critical time for rest and regeneration. And a few days away from soccer may be good for the soul too. When you’re having a bad time at the office, doesn’t it feel good to get a three day weekend?

Fact: there are still a ton of unanswered questions about this team.

Fact: I don’t have those answers.