They don’t seem to think things through as they should.
A GIF is worth a thousand words…
The expectations in Atlanta were the same as they’ve been since Day 1: That a selection of high-priced South American imports would drive the Five Stripes to the top of the standings via an attractive style of play and an irresistible attack, while a few veteran MLSers would provide the solidity and institutional knowhow necessary to grind through a full season.
It’s honestly not a bad plan – I really liked Atlanta’s winter window, in which they upgraded at the No. 10, the No. 6 and left back. Teams have definitely had worse windows.
But the soccer gods had different ideas as Atlanta were smote and smote again with injuries, underperforming DPs and internal conflict as the season just kind of petered away.
Formation and Tactics
Gonzalo Pineda’s from the Brian Schmetzer coaching tree, which means a 4-2-3-1 was the preferred formation. It also means that a 3-4-2-1 is the secondary formation when the pieces to play a 4-2-3-1 aren’t available, as was the case with Atlanta all year long.
Tactically, most of what Atlanta did came out of having a very good No. 10 (Thiago Almada) and a bunch of fullbacks/wingbacks who were given a weekly mandate to get forward. There was nothing complicated about it.
Defensively, I think these two numbers, courtesy of Second Spectrum’s tracking data, tell a pretty clear story: Atlanta were among the league leaders in pressures per game, but were down near the bottom of the league in team pressures per game.
In other words they spent a ton of time disorganized and chasing the game, and very little time getting structured, consistent pressure to the ball anywhere on the pitch.
I guess you could point to the start of the season, as Atlanta got out of the gates at 3W-1L-1D and looked pretty ok in doing it. They weren’t stringing dominant performances together or anything, but they were doing just enough to scrape together wins as Ozzie Alonso marshaled the midfield, Almada settled in as the playmaker and Josef Martinez worked his way back to full fitness.
That was, I think, the only time this season Atlanta fans were truly optimistic, and the only time they really had cause to be.
Rather than scrounge up any highlights from way back in March, I’m going to instead embed Josef’s bike from this past weekend:
That was super cool.
On April 4 Ozzie tore his ACL and was lost for the year.
On April 6 backup goalkeeper Dylan Castanheira tore his Achilles tendon and was lost for the year.
On April 16 starting goalkeeper Brad Guzan tore his Achilles tendon and was lost for the year.
On May 7 starting center back Miles Robinson tore his Achilles tendon and was lost for the year.
If you spend eight figures on a guy it shouldn’t come as a revelation when he’s good, but it kind of is for Atlanta, right? They’ve gone that deep into ye olde piggy bank in the past and come back with Luiz Araujo, Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco, none of whom have been much to write home about.
Almada, in Year 1, absolutely was. He’s not perfect of course – like lots of young playmakers he loves taking too many touches. But this wasn’t Barco-style head-down dribbling; lots of times he just seemed to be waiting (and waiting and waiting) for someone to make a run:
They won’t have Almada for much longer, I don’t think. They might actually break Miguel Almiron’s transfer record (reported $27 million to Newcastle United) when they sell him.
The other revelation is the other star of that clip, left back (and left wingback and left center back and what the hell, now he’s up at center forward) Andrew Gutman. It is no coincidence that when he got healthy and got back into the lineup, the Five Stripes actually started showing a bit of life.
I’m just gonna steal the lede from Tom Bogert’s write-up of Josef’s suspension last month for flipping a table covered with the team’s postgame meal after a huge loss in Portland:
Atlanta United's 2022 season has not gone to plan and certainly has not gone quietly. It continues to go from bad to worse.
The latest lowlight for the Five Stripes came on Wednesday when the club suspended star forward Josef Martinez for one game due to "conduct detrimental to the team." Head coach Gonzalo Pineda admitted the next day that there have been "multiple cases or situations" of "bad behavior" with the club legend.
“This time we felt it was the right time to take action," Pineda told local media at training on Thursday.
Josef seemed to show more fight in that blow-up than he often did on the field this year. By virtually every tracking metric he’s the worst defensive forward in the league – he basically does not run or press anymore on that side of the ball, and what’s worse is that his top sprinting speed this season clocks in at the 8th percentile among MLS forwards. His total distance covered per 90? That’s in the first percentile.
Back in 2019, when Atlanta’s season was spinning out of control under Frank de Boer, Josef refused to let it happen. He scored in 15 straight games (I still can’t believe that streak) and single-handedly kept that team from coming apart in the middle of the season.
Those days are gone.
Five Players to Build Around
- Almada (AM): 6g/11a and a cap with the full Argentina national team as a 21-year-old? Yeah, that’s a building block – until he’s sold.
- Gutman (LB/LCB/LWB): Just an excellent all-around soccer player who’s in his prime and adds value at three spots.
- Sosa (DM): He needs a bodyguard out there, but the 23-year-old seemed to be figuring out the league a little bit in the second half of the season.
- Brooks Lennon (RB/RWB/RW): Put him out there, get him space and get him targets in the box.
- Robinson (CB): There’s no reason to think he won’t be back to full health and fitness by the start of next season.
They’ve got to figure out what’s happening at the top end of their roster. Almada might be sold, and Josef’s entering the final season of his contract and is clearly unhappy. Luiz Araujo is out there every week being ineffective, while Marcelino Moreno barely plays and his effectiveness varies wildly when it does. That’s three DPs and a max TAM guy, none of whom fit together and only one of whom is a high-level starter at his respective position.
Do they buy Josef out? If not, do they buy Araujo out? Is there a market in the league for either, or both? What about Moreno – there’s got to be someone interested in him (could you pry a Paul Arriola-esque amount of allocation cash out of Colorado for Moreno? That sure is the type of move that makes sense for both teams!).
And of course, all of this is happening in the shadow of front office/managerial turmoil. Erstwhile club president Darren Eales has departed to Newcastle; both Pineda and VP/technical director Carlos Bocanegra are presumed to be sitting on very, very hot seats.
It’s going to be a massive winter in Atlanta. It’s got to be, or next year’s likely to look the same as this one.