Tata Martino has this version of Atlanta United playing some of the most sophisticated soccer MLS has ever seen. It is not that he asks so much from his players, but that he asks them to do a lot of what they are best at. With a few tinkerings of the gears, the midfield engine room of Atlanta United has kept churning along as all but three other teams have blown a gasket on the season.
Ezequiel Barco was not signed mid-season to score goals, but putting four past opposing keepers did add some value after his slow start. After a breaking-in period, Barco found his rhythm with the Atlanta United timing chain and was soon able to add some low-end torque to the United midfield.
More from MLS Multiplex
- Javier Milei Elected in Argentina: Potential Impacts on MLS and Signings of Argentine Players
- Orlando City and New York City FC in the Battle for Matías Arezo; Grêmio Enters Negotiations! Who Will Come Out on Top?
- USA, Honduras, Panama, and Canada Close in on a Spot in the 2024 Copa America
- De Gea Turns Down Al-Nassr’s Lucrative Offer: Speculation Points to Possible Reunion with Messi at Inter Miami
- Messi’s Magnetic Impact in the United States
And United needed it. Early in the season, Darlington Nagbe was being stretched too thin, and was risking a dip in form and confidence, if not injury, had Martino not geared the midfield for more support pressuring then releasing the ball. Once Barco was on the same page as Gressel, Almiron, and Nagbe, Atlanta was able to shield the backline better. That kept the ball higher up the field, and when won, allowed direct play in on goal from balls slipped through from near midfield.
Atlanta’s midfield, Almiron included, face the question of who wants the ball versus the Red Bulls. Both teams like to spring traps on lazy play. New York will likely press Atlanta high in the first leg, while Atlanta likes to counter. One of these teams will have to take the initiative. Some ideas in prolonged possession will be needed to take, or hold, the series lead. Penalty kicks are no one’s idea of a good time right now.
Eric Remedi could turn the series by adding some calm on the ball, and making sure the simple passes to move defenders are ticking over. Atlanta opens itself up to a coin-flip, end-to-end affair if they allow the game to become nothing but direct play. Sure, there will be lots of direct play, but they must be able to impart control in the midfield.
The decisions made will determine the space on the wings, and there will be space. Both teams will try to create that space for quick outlets. The team that has the most time in that space, will probably have more thought-out attacks with the opportunity to scan the field. This series can be a dogfight without becoming a demolition derby.