Atlanta United wins the night, now they must follow it up

Mike Conti
March 14, 2019 - 11:08 am

© Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

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On a night where Atlanta United so desperately needed something positive to happen, this resilient club found an answer. Now, they need to do it again.

There are a number of enormous positives to extract from Wednesday night’s 1-0 victory over Monterrey, even though it was not enough to send Atlanta United through to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. Atlanta United is only the second MLS team ever to beat Monterrey (and the first in ten years). Rayados were unbeaten in calendar year 2019 until Wednesday night.

Perhaps even more importantly, Atlanta United is the first and only MLS club to take a result against a Liga MX side in the quarterfinal round. Debate will ensue for weeks and months to come about what needs to happen for MLS to achieve parity with Liga MX in this tournament. Putting that aside for now, what Atlanta United accomplished Wednesday is noteworthy.

The funny thing about a long soccer season is that very little of it will matter if Atlanta United cannot follow it up with a result Sunday night against the struggling Philadelphia Union.

The big takeaway from Wednesday, in my view, is that we know Atlanta United has plenty of grit and determination (apologies to Dan Quinn for borrowing that term). Most of Atlanta United’s starting XI was called upon to play their sixth match in a 20 day span, an insane workload that is almost never asked of MLS players. And, somehow, they found a store of energy that had them at the very least even against the best team in Mexico in open play, and enough to put Monterrey on the ropes for the final 15 minutes. It’s a credit to the players.

I know there have been some questions about the lack of rotation in the squad, but it seems Frank de Boer is committed to playing the lineup that gives his team the best chance at getting a result. And, because of injuries to George Bello and Franco Escobar, Atlanta United is less deep right now that some observers may perceive. De Boer remarked last night that he sees Escobar as a right back. With Escobar’s injury and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez out on yellow card accumulation, de Boer was forced to turn to Michael Parkhurst again for a start, even though I’m sure there is an intent to buy him some rest.

On the subject of the back line: what Miles Robinson has done to start the season is incredible. He was matched up against one of the elite players in Liga MX (Funes Mori) and dominated him Wednesday night. Robinson has been, by far, Atlanta United’s most consistent player in their first six competitions, and could in time be pushing Aaron Long for time with the US Men’s National Team. We expected that Atlanta United’s center-backs would thrive under the guidance of de Boer, one of the best to ever play that position, and Robinson seems to be benefitting.

With the onerous travel schedule and match congestion of CONCACAF Champions League behind them, it is now absolutely critical for Atlanta United to go into the international break on a positive note, or the goodwill generated by Wednesday’s performance will quickly be erased. Philadelphia Union had moments of brilliance against Atlanta United last year, but the Five Stripes still managed two comfortable wins against them in 2018. Philadelphia will be without their best player after a red card was shown to him last week in Kansas City. It’s a tough ask for another 90 minutes from this core group of Barco, Parkhurst, Gonzalez Pirez, Robinson and Josef Martinez; but, the ask becomes more reasonable knowing that after Sunday, Atlanta United plays only one match over the subsequent 26 days.

For now, Atlanta United supporters should be proud. They didn’t win the war, but they won a battle against Monterrey. It’s a result that’s a big positive for the club and MLS.  Now they have to build off of it.​