Atlanta United battled to a 4-1 aggregate win in the Eastern Conference semi-finals against New York City FC. Here are five questions from the victory.
Atlanta United won the second leg of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against New York City FC 3-1 in front of a record-breaking 70,000 fans. The Five Stripes fought hard to secure a 4-1 aggregate series win and now advance to the Conference final against the New York Red Bulls.
Thanks to Atlanta’s two brightest stars, Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron, the Five Stripes put on a glorious show in front of their energetic fan base. Martinez scored a penalty in the first half while Almiron scored a gorgeous freekick to put the home side ahead 2-0. NYCFC pulled one back shortly before halftime, but Martinez found the back of the net again in the 80th minute to secure the 3-1 win.
Atlanta United showed a lot of what they can accomplish. There were a lot of questions before the semifinals started, but now most of those questions are answered. This edition of 5 things learned will be done in a question/answer format, featuring the most pressing questions asked of this team heading into the semifinals.
Here are five questions (things) answered (learned).
5. Can Tata Martino change his ways when needed?
Long answer: Tata Martino likes to manage soccer a certain way and there are almost always guaranteed plays seen in a game. For examples, his teams are always going to build out of the back and they are always going to push the full backs up the field out wide.
In this series, we saw the full backs up high at times, but Martino changed that tactic a little. Martino also decided to change the way his team began open play. At Yankee Stadium, we saw an Atlanta team that opted to start open play down the field with goalkeeper Brad Guzan kicking the ball long, instead of passing to a defender. This proved effective as Atlanta won 1-0.
Martino opted for a five-man backline, something rarely seen in his tenure in Atlanta. This meant the full backs stayed back most of the time instead of pushing up the way they normally do. The team trotted out a back-five for most of the first leg and part of the return leg. This change of formation was crucial in keeping a clean sheet during the away leg in New York and helped keep the Pigeons at bay during the return leg. New York only managed four shots on goal during the second match.
Martino’s tactical flexibility ultimately won the series for Atlanta. Whether it’s a five-man back line or a three-man back line that shifts to five, or Martino’s preferred 4-2-3-1 that was used for much of the regular season, the Atlanta head coach showed he can change his ways if it means playing “ugly” soccer.