1. Jake Mulraney’s inverted position
Mulraney logged 18 MLS appearances for Atlanta last year in his first season at the club. During that entire time he was utilized out on the left side either as an attacking fullback or — more effectively — as the left-sided wingback. He was threatening in the latter position, earning both his goal involvements in that role.
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But in the limited footage of Atlanta’s preseason action, Mulraney has actually lined up on the right side, and cut in on his favored left foot. He is taking more shots, and pretty dangerous shots at that. The same way Ezequiel Barco drifts in from the left and finishes to the far post, Mulraney is doing from the opposite side. Expect a more attacking Jake Mulraney in 2021.
2. Machop Chol’s attacking position
Chol signed a Homegrown contract ahead of the 2021 season after playing at Wake Forest and in Atlanta’s academy system beforehand. He traditionally lines up on the right side of a front three, but in the friendly against Charleston Battery, Chol sat as the furthest man forward, and his creativity shone through.
He was able to dance past defenders and put a chance away. With all of Gabriel Heinze’s striking options added this offseason, Chol was far down on the depth chart, but he may actually sit second to Josef Martinez if his form keeps up, and if he earns a spot in the first team.
3. George Bello’s early crosses
Instead of bursting forward down the left side, the same way Mulraney did in 2020, Bello proved he is most effective when he crosses the ball early. It is unknown whether or not this is a conscious decision from Heinze, but Bello does not appear to be gambling forward nearly as frequently as he typically does. Instead, Bello occupies that space between the midfield line and the edge of the 18-yard-box and crosses early to whoever the striker is.
The back line will probably appreciate this conservative approach since Heinze’s run-and-gun style typically leads to defending a fair amount of counterattacks. If Bello can stay relatively chained to the other defenders, then there will be better cohesion in defensive transition.