5 Five Stripes Thoughts: A healthy Atlanta United should terrify MLS

Mike Conti
September 15, 2018 - 9:14 pm
Atlanta United midfielder Darlington Nagbe

© Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

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DENVER — We got an answer to one of our biggest Atlanta United questions much sooner than expected on a hot Saturday in Colorado.

How was Tata Martino going to manage to work Darlington Nagbe back into the lineup after his replacement, Eric Remedi, looked so good in two months of work? The answer turned out to be simple: play them both.

With Nagbe back from injury and both Greg Garza and Franco Escobar nearly back: results like Atlanta United’s 3-0 pasting of Colorado Rapids Saturday could become the norm, not the exception. The deepest club in MLS has just about all of its pieces healthy for the stretch run. That’s a scary thought for managers in New York, Columbus, Seattle, Dallas, Kansas City and elsewhere.

Here are my five thoughts on Saturday’s game:

1. Nagbe played a literally perfect game in his return. Nagbe attempted 33 passes and completed all of them. Including three long passes as deemed by Opta. He played brilliantly defensively and snuffed out a Colorado scoring chance right after Colorado’s hydration break. It speaks to Nagbe’s professionalism and soccer intellect that he came back as if he hadn’t missed a single match. But Saturday also demonstrated how vital it will be for him to stay healthy for the next three months.

2. Julien Gressel had his best game of the season. It wasn’t just his two assists. It was his mistake-free play in another match as right wingback in a 3-5-2 formation. Gressel seems to have found a home there in the 3-5-2, both as a creator and a defender. Matches like this are why Gressel is such a fan favorite.

3. Remember when everyone was complaining about a “lack of a secondary scorer?” That’s over now. Miguel Almiron had a brace in just 19 minutes of play and became only the third MLS player this year with 10+ goals and assists. As of late Saturday, Atlanta United was one of just two clubs (NYCFC is the other) with two players on the same team having 11+ goals on the year. I don’t think there was any undue pressure on Josef Martinez, but this certainly helps.

4. This club’s resiliency is incredible. Saturday’s victory makes Atlanta United 10-0-1 following a loss or draw in 2018. The lone draw was in New England, where a soft penalty late fouled a night on which the Five Stripes had full control of the match. The ability to quickly bounce back from a loss is a testimony to a positive club culture created by Martino and maintained by veteran players.

5. Atlanta United supporters may have outnumbered Colorado supporters in the crowd Saturday. That is an amazing thing to say for a match played 930 miles away from home, but it’s true. Atlanta United supporters continue to travel in droves, very much reminiscent of college football fans who trek to bowl games. Atlanta United now shares the record for most road wins in a non-shootout-era season. I hope those who make the effort to travel to these matches know what they are doing is not going unnoticed.