Atlanta United showed a different side in Seattle Sounders draw

Atlanta United FC defender Franco Ibarra. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta United FC defender Franco Ibarra. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

There was a duality from Atlanta United on Sunday at the Seattle Sounders, the type of grit and bite mixed with their trademark build-up and possession that harkens back to the organization’s 2018 MLS Cup winning side.

The micro takeaway from Atlanta United at the Seattle Sounders, a 1-1 result, was impressive. How Atlanta United achieved this result, sometimes having to play ugly, is perhaps the biggest storyline from Sunday.

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All too often over the past two years, Atlanta United has been the one playing pretty soccer but folding like a cheap suit once a match becomes a scrap. On Sunday afternoon, on the road against one of the premier teams in MLS, Atlanta United held on when needed and churned out a tough road result. But they still kept their identity as an attacking team even while needing to add some muscle to get there.

“What I’m trying to do with my players is to try and teach them a certain way,” Atlanta United head coach Gabriel Heinze said after the game.

“There will be some games where we have more chances. There will be games when we don’t have as many chances. And the day that I don’t have the trust in the players I’m coaching, I will move away.”

It was an impressive and thorough result from Atlanta United, as they held a clear edge in possession (62.8 percent) and shots (10:7). And while it took an 86th minute penalty kick converted by Josef Martinez to level the score, Atlanta still got a big road result.

Since losing to the Philadelphia Union in the CONCACAF Champions League in early May, Atlanta United hasn’t lost in their last three league games (one win, two draws) and is showing a bit of spine that was lacking last year in Frank de Boer’s club. The emergence of some backbone and heart is what could potentially help one of the most talented teams in MLS get back into the playoffs and challenge for more hardware.

“I don’t know if we are a good team or not yet. We have more possession than Seattle,” Martinez said after the match. “They have a better team than us. We didn’t create a lot of chances, but one points is enough for us.”

And after a solid albeit somewhat uneven start to the season, getting a point at the best team in the league so far is certainly a major building block for the season. With the win, Atlanta United improves to 2-1-3 (9 points) on the season.

Even last year, a devastatingly bad year for the club with injuries to key players such as Martinez and a head coach who simply didn’t fit the club’s culture, Atlanta United still dominated matches in terms of possession and opportunities created. But they struggled to keep their shape as well as fight when matches bog down, as they often do in MLS.

There seemed to be a lack of purpose, a disjointed message that haunted the club the last two years. Individually, this was still a very talented side. Collectively, Atlanta United was weak and incoherent with what they wanted to do. On Sunday afternoon, they showed a singularity of purpose at the Seattle Sounders, even if it meant blending their beautiful style of possession-based soccer with grit and fight to get a result.

The last two weeks, the club has had to comeback to get results and continue to slowly climb up the Eastern Conference table (Atlanta United currently sits fifth). It is a combination of their beautiful attacking style with the ability to play tough that has this team brimming with potential.

Sunday proved that they have both glory and guts, something that was missing last year.

“Absolutely. 100 percent. We pushed and we probed. We fully deserved at least a point today,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said.

“Our work rate was phenomenal. It was never going to be an easy game. Seattle is obviously a very good team. To travel out here, with a few knocks that we have within the group, to show the resilience, to keep fighting and to ultimately earn the penalty –fantastic.”

Follow Kristian Dyer of ‘MLS Multiplex’ on Twitter @KristianRDyer