Progress: Atlanta United steadily improving, earns road win

Mike Conti
April 14, 2019 - 9:51 am
Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco

© Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports


BOSTON — A three match trend of Atlanta United playing more attack-oriented soccer finally produced a win Saturday night in New England.

It’s almost as if there was something to those statistics showing Atlanta United has dramatically increased its chance creation since the Cincinnati match.

Removing my tongue from my cheek, let’s dig in to what happened Saturday in Foxborough. Because there was a lot to be pleased about in Atlanta United’s 2-0 win over New England Revolution, a performance that was unquestionably The Stripes’ best of the season.

Ezequiel Barco was absolutely the man of the match (two goals, four drawn fouls), but he was not the only reason why Atlanta United won. A semi-makeshift backline of Brek Shea, Miles Robinson, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Michael Parkhurst routinely snuffed out chances on a night where Atlanta United only held 47 percent of possession. They combined for 14 clearances, and Shea was credited by Opta with 13 possessions gained. Indeed, Brad Guzan was only challenged once on the night, and that was with his team holding a two goal lead.

I have been trying to tell our 92.9 The Game listeners that since the Cincinnati match, Atlanta United has been playing the attack-oriented soccer that so many of us came to love in the club’s first two seasons. Here is the statistical proof: each match since Cincinnati has produced a season high in created chances, and Saturday that number totaled 18. The Stripes had a season-high 19 shots, and 13 of them were inside the box (by far a season-high). And this was on a night where Franco Escobar and Pity Martinez got limited duty. Imagine what these numbers could look like when Pity and Franco are fully healthy!

I understand that some fans wanted to see more of those 18 chances converted. Josef Martinez had a frustrating night. But it would be demeaning to New England goalkeeper Cody Cropper and defender Andrew Farrell to not give them at least some credit. Cropper made at least three miracle saves, and two other Atlanta United goals were cleared off the line by defenders (the first caused in part by Cropper wisely coming off his line to cut down the angle for Josef, who was in on a breakaway).

The head injury to Eric Remedi is a concern going forward, and may temporarily force Darlington Nagbe into a holding role in the midfield. Here is where Frank de Boer deserves credit for pushing the correct button on substitutes. Introducing Barco for Remedi clearly changed the game (that one may have been obvious). But immediately after speedy Canadian Tajon Buchannan created a scoring chance, de Boer subbed on Escobar and played him at left back, which smothered Buchannan instantly. De Boer was heavily criticized for not subbing in Monterrey. The last two weeks have seen him get it exactly right.

I’d like to see an explanation from PRO on why Jalil Anibaba’s horror challenge on Julian Gressel did not produce a red card, especially after it was checked by the Video Assistant Referee. It was a straight legged, studs up challenge into Gressel’s knee that could have led to a serious injury. If fouls like that don’t result in an expulsion, then referees have set a dangerous line where players will continue to be doing exposed to serious injury.

An important two-match homestand now looms for Atlanta United, and it cannot be assumed that Remedi will be available for it. I feel Atlanta United needs at least four points out of their meetings with Dallas and Colorado. Dallas has earned results in five of their first seven matches, and will present a scouting challenge with a new manager and a roster that has turned over since their win over Atlanta United last July. More importantly, Atlanta United needs to keep the momentum. Swagger is a good thing. Maybe it started to develop Saturday in New England.