PURCHASE, N.Y. – Inaugural seasons have not been kind to expansion teams; just ask New York City FC.
But through eight games Atlanta United FC are proving to be an exception. An explosive attacking side that leads the Eastern Conference with 18 goals scored, they are arguably the top story of the first two months of the MLS season.
NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira is not surprised, because Gerardo "Tata" Martino is at the Atlanta United helm.
“I think it’s his experience. He’s one of the best coaches around,” Vieira said. “When you look at his pedigree and the teams he’s had a chance to coach, I’m not surprised they are doing well.”
Vieira will get his opportunity for a tactical chess match with Martino in the first meeting between the teams Sunday at Yankee Stadium (4 pm ET | Univision, Facebook.com, MLS LIVE in Canada). Martino, who has coached FC Barcelona as well as the Paraguay and Argentina national teams, stresses high pressure and sends numbers in attack.
There are similarities with Vieira’s squad, which has scored 14 goals in eight matches and sit fourth in the Eastern Conference with 13 points, two in front of Atlanta.
“I think their game is based a lot on the individual talent who up front can make the difference,” Vieira said. “They have players I think who can run at people and pass people, technically really good. I’m really looking forward to the game.”
Martino is a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, who is considered the godfather of high-pressing soccer. The former Argentina and Chile coach is among the coaches Vieira has studied.
“I watched him a lot when he was in France with Marseille, and of course I believe personally he is one of the best coaches around, because he’s so demanding and he has a clear idea and philosophy about how he wants to play the game and his training methods are quite really good as well,” Vieira said of Bielsa. “Tata, I think, I like him a lot too.”
Because of their attacking style, Atlanta United joins Columbus Crew SC as one of Vieira’s favorites to watch in MLS.
“They commit a lot of players forward because you have to look at the characteristics of their players up front, but even when you look in the midfield, their outside back, they like to play going forward,” Vieira said. “This is why they are where they are and scoring so many goals in the league. This is a philosophy of the coach and I enjoy watching them play as well.”
Atlanta United have shown a prowess for scoring early in matches, which is one of Vieira’s main concerns Sunday.
“The way they are aggressive in the first 15 minutes, if we are not matching their desire and competitiveness from the start, if they manage to score first then it will be very difficult for us because I believe as well they are a counterattack team,” Vieira said. “They gamble a lot going forward and that’s why it will be important for us to not concede the first goal.”