The New York Red Bulls have beaten Atlanta United in a regular-season matchup … again. History repeats itself, but we were still able to learn a few things from the latest installment — here are four takeaways from New York’s 1-0 win in their MLS is Back Tournament opener:
You don’t have to look far for the major plot point in this one. It’s the same one that’s been used for nearly every regular-season meeting between these two teams. It really feels like most sentences in this section could be followed by “… again.”
Which means that if you’ve paid attention at all to any of the previous regular-season meetings (where New York now hold a 5-0-2 record), you’ll know that Red Bulls came out and pressed and executed at a higher level throughout the game and that’s really the whole story. A few other subplots here and there, but the main through line didn’t change.
What’s most impressive about this one is that the Red Bulls were able to execute as well as they did under these circumstances. Neither the heat nor the break seemed to be much of a problem. They were cohesive each time a pressing trigger presented itself, they didn’t hesitate and finished the one chance they needed to even though they definitely could have had more.
How the New York Red Bulls changed their defense against Atlanta United | Top Tier
For Atlanta, New York is like that one friend you haven’t seen in a while that comes to town and instantly brings out the worst in you. No matter how hard they try to fight it and sit down and have a pleasant, adult conversation about mortgages, the Red Bulls trick them into ordering just one round and then all of a sudden Atlanta wakes up on a stranger’s lawn. It’s truly impressive how bad the Red Bulls make Atlanta look over and over. Especially when you have Chris Armas saying postgame that he considers Atlanta “one of the benchmarks of the league.” New York have consistently flown past that benchmark and looked good doing it.
You come without the king, you best not miss
The Red Bulls were clearly the better team, but Atlanta scraped together a decent amount of chances. The only problem is that Josef Martinez wasn’t on the end of any of them.
Atlanta came out in a 3-4-3 formation that Frank de Boer is determined to implement. With Ezequiel Barco on the bench, Atlanta fielded a a front three of Pity Martinez and two newcomers: Matheus Rossetto and Manuel Castro. Naturally, Atlanta’s biggest chances for most of the first half came from … 18-year-old wingback George Bello. Rossetto seemed largely non-existent and when Castro did get a pair of chances, he missed them about as unceremoniously as one could.
De Boer subbed on Adam Jahn later on the game and he just missed a stoppage-time equalizer, but that kind of output up top won’t be good enough to carry Atlanta far in this tournament. There are a lot of questions right now about who’s going to find the net for the Five Stripes, and tonight provided no answers.
A long time coming
Florian Valot seemed cursed for a second. The man had back-to-back ACL tears over the last two years, and tonight he got his first goal since 2018. He deservedly won man of the match honors and a whole lot of praise on Twitter.
Pity is trying to be his best self
Pity Martinez seemed like a changed man at the beginning of the season. He repeatedly told the media he had adjusted his attitude in the offseason and felt he was ready to live up to the lofty price tag attached to his move to Atlanta. He looked like it, too.
Tonight, after a lengthy break, he still looked determined to prove his worth. He especially came alive in the second half and seemed to be the only Atlanta United player interested in being effective. With no Josef at all, and no Barco for a majority of the match, he didn’t get a lot of help, but for Atlanta fans it will at least be encouraging to see him continuing to push. It’s like seeing a family member start listening to every self-help podcast they can find and enacting what they’re learning. You’re just rooting for them, ya know? So what if every third word that comes out of their mouth is “praxis”?