1. Better performance compared to 2019
Last year’s opening performance on the road against Herediano was alarming. Atlanta United looked completely lost in the 3-1 road loss in Costa Rica. Returning players made uncharacteristic mistakes, while newly signed players looked extremely unsettled as they worked to build chemistry with their new teammates in realtime. And all this came with Frank de Boer taking the reins as the new head coach.
Tuesday night’s showing against Motagua was exponentially better than the team’s opening CCL performance last year. Although Motagua failed to capitalize on their chances, there were few moments when it felt like Atlanta lacked control over the game. Even in an underworked 4-3-3, the team looked fairly comfortable throughout the match.
The team’s performance is even more impressive when looking at the difference in Tuesday’s line-up from previous line-ups in preseason. Based on preseason play, the ideal starting XI for Tuesday’s match against Motagua would’ve looked something like this:
Ezequiel Barco Pity Martinez
Anton Walkes Emerson Hyndman Jeff Larentowicz Brooks Lennon
Fernando Meza Miles Robinson Franco Escobar
Instead, Tuesday night’s line-up and formation looked similar to this (there were numerous variations and plenty of flexibility as the match progressed):
Ezequiel Barco Josef Martinez Pity Martinez
Eric Remedi Emerson Hyndman Jeff Larentowicz
Franco Escobar Anton Walkes Fernando Meza Mo Adams
In the formations above, there are a total of five players either lined up out of position or missing altogether. It was an especially risky move on de Boer’s part to play both Franco Escobar and Mo Adams out of position at the full-back spots, but with a 1-1 result, it proved to be a beneficial one.
The overarching point is this, however: Atlanta United will improve. As players return from injury, de Boer better instils his gameplan, and the team comes together, they will get better. And they are already beginning the season from a stronger starting place than last yet.