As we like to do before each game, we welcome in a fellow SBN blogger to help preview the next FC Dallas opponent. Today, we are joined by Dirty South Soccer’s Sydney Hunte to help break down the defending MLS Cup champions.
BDS: Much to everyone’s surprise, Atlanta has started the season really slow under Frank de Boer. How much of that slow start has been about de Boer’s new system, the additional games in the Champions League or just the loss of guys like Miguel Almiron?
DSS: I think in all honesty, it’s a little bit of all three of those things. There was always going to be that time of adjustment under de Boer even though he promised an “evolution, not revolution” to the club’s playing style. Losing Almiron to the Premier League and the compressed schedule thanks to the Champions League didn’t do Atlanta any favors, either.
But like you said, this is a surprise - I doubt anyone thought the club would go so long without a victory. It looked like a group without a true identity and the feeling was that de Boer was forcing it to play a system that very few players were used to. The win at Saturday was much needed to get things on the right track, and to Atlanta’s credit, things look to be trending in the right direction. I feel a win against Dallas could stand to really validate things and show that the start of the campaign was just a blip and not a picture of what to expect throughout the balance of 2019.
BDS: Josef Martinez has really struggled to get going this season with just one goal, what has been the big difference with him so far in 2019? How can Atlanta get him going again like we’ve seen the last two seasons?
DSS: I think the goals will come. Even on Saturday, we saw him receive more chances than he got in prior contests, but unfortunately for him, he just couldn’t get them in the net. On the flip side of that, though, he was able to help the team in a few different ways, including a nice ball forward that sprung Tito Villalba on the left side to set up Ezequiel Barco’s first goal of the match.
With Atlanta potentially settling more into a 4-4-2 look versus the 3-4-3 it played earlier in the season (de Boer said that this was due to an injury to Franco Escobar), Martinez should find more and more opportunites to score. But one goal across 5 MLS matches is well below standard for the defending MVP. I do feel that once one goes in, they’ll start to come easier - and Atlanta definitely need him to be playing at a high level if it’s to put this bumpy beginning to the season in the rear view mirror.
BDS: Aside from Pity Martinez, who else has Atlanta brought in that Dallas fans should know about for this season? Also, are there any returning players that have surprisingly made their way into the lineup this season?
DSS: Outside of Brek Shea, the Pity Martinez signing, and the acquisition of Florentin Pogba, there weren’t any major incoming players for Atlanta in the offseason. Shea was acquired in part because of Greg Garza’s trade to FC Cincinnati, but their abilities are so different and I’m not sure if he 100% fits into de Boer’s plans. With George Bello and Mikey Ambrose injured, my feeling is that he received the start on Saturday because de Boer really had no choice and very little depth at that spot on the field.
Miles Robinson has been tough to keep out of the XI as he’s developed into the top young center backs in the league. His work rate, awareness and ability at the CB position really speaks to his development since the latter stages of last season. While you can point to a number of players that helped Atlanta win MLS Cup last year, I think Robinson’s contributions can’t be overlooked.