Atlanta credit Martino's tactical adjustments for impressive win over DC

ATLANTA – On Sunday afternoon Atlanta United finally beat D.C. United on their fourth try, a 3-1 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium that can be credited in large part to Gerardo “Tata” Martino.

“Kudos to Tata for the perfect game plan,” said Atlanta’s Julian Gressel, who made a rare appearance at right wingback as the Five Stripes utilized a 3-5-2 formation.

Last week’s 4-0 loss on the road at Houston exposed weaknesses in midfield created by the absence of Carlos Carmona, who has not been replaced since his offseason return to Colo Colo in his native Chile. So Martino switched to a setup with three center backs to provide more solidity along the backline, while Miguel Almiron, Darlington Nagbe and Jeff Larentowicz partnered to good effect in the center of the park.

“With this formation, we were able to control the game and create chances,” Martino said through a translator postgame. “Today we wanted to get more bodies in the midfield and we wanted to get Tito [Hector Villalba] up front, and then Miguel, Nagbe and Jeff closing down the midfield.

“We have to remember we lost a key piece of that partnership that we had last year with Carmona and Larentowicz. And so we’re trying to fill that void that he left a little bit with the formation instead of one player.”

The team has been working on the formation since the end of last year, and they took it for a test run in their preseason match against Nashville SC. Following the team’s poor performance at Houston last week, Martino decided to switch things up from the usual 4-2-3-1 formation.

“I thought we were lacking more bodies in the midfield and the ability to recover the ball in midfield,” he said on Sunday. “So we thought it was a good chance to try it today. I think we did a good job for the first 75 minutes or so of the game and then we let off a little bit in the last 15.”

The tactical switch allowed the Atlanta players to find their comfort zones. Almiron, who played on the left last week, was moved back into a central attacking role and turned in a man-of-the-match performance.

“I’m used to playing in that position,” he said. “I was feeling well out there, but not just myself, the whole team, and that’s what’s important.”

Behind him, Larentowicz was hugely influential in a holding role after struggling at times as a center back last week.

“Last year, I played the majority of the time in the midfield, so there’s definitely a comfort level there,” said Larentowicz.

As well as the new tactical look worked vs. D.C., Martino, true to form, was coy about how the team might be arrayed against the Vancouver Whitecaps next week (Saturday, 7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE in US | TSN2 in Canada).

“I’m not saying we’re going to play that way every game,” he said. “The team is capable of both systems. I thought it was a good chance to try it today.”