ATL UTD Eastern Conference Finals Preview: New York Red Bulls

This Sunday, Atlanta United get set to play their first Eastern Conference finals against the Supporters’ Shield winners, New York Red Bulls.

Atlanta United vs NYRB
Atlanta United vs NYRB http://www.atlutd.com

First things first, the New York Red Bulls are coming into the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 2-0 lead up on Atlanta during the regular season. With their main goalscorer, Bradley Wright Phillips, in fine form,  the Atlanta defense has their work cut out for them.

While Atlanta is not inferior by any means, statistically or talent-wise, what they do have that Atlanta doesn’t, is experience. The New York Red Bulls have participated in 17 playoff matches alongside their goalscorer Wright-Phillips, so they’re no strangers to the MLS Playoffs, or the Eastern Conference finals for that matter.

Tata Out

Tata Martino
Tata Martino http://www.elsol.com.ar

With Tata Martino almost certainly out of the picture for the 5 Stripes for next year, he’s going to want to leave a good and long-lasting impression on the tremendous fan base Atlanta has acquired over the last year and a half. By making the right calls at the right time throughout the regular season, Tata has earned himself a place in Atlanta history by leading his squad to the Conference finals and earning the prestigious Coach of the Year award along the way.

With Martino masterminding the whole team, and with a full and healthy squad (with the exception of backup striker Romario Williams) Atlanta United will be able to give the Red Bulls everything they’ve got when they square off in the Benz.

The MLS Conference Finals We’ve Been Waiting For

Josef Martinez vs. NYRB
Josef Martinez vs. NYRB http://www.scoopnest.com

Sometimes, it’s up for debate whether or not the two best teams actually made it to the finals. However, this is not the case. In terms of points, the Red Bulls beat out Atlanta United by 2 points (71 to 69) to grab the record for most points in an MLS season. Who was in 2nd place? Atlanta was.

This will be the finals with the best two Eastern Conference teams and it could go either way, to be honest. This season, we’ve seen these two powerhouses go back and forth achieve win after win and claw their way out of any sort of slump they may have found themselves in, only to find themselves come back even stronger.  Leg 1 of 2 will be the particularly important because it’ll be where we have home field advantage so we need to make the most of it.

 

Arturo Principe | @ArturoPrincipe1

 

 

ATL UTD vs Columbus Crew Preview

After a week long break, Atlanta United gets ready to face off against Columbus Crew in a match that is a near “must win” as the regular season begins to wind down. 

Zack Steffen
Zack Steffen en.onefootball.com

 

The Columbus Crew are feeling confident and like their old selves again with their talisman, Justin Meram, back from a short and ineffective stint in Orlando City. With Meram back in the starting XI, as well as 3 consecutive wins, and the Crew have their eyes set on walking away with all 3 points from Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

While Atlanta United look to maintain their lead in the Supporters’ Shield run, other teams like New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls are not making it easy for them.

Both New York teams are within single digits of catching up with ATL UTD so the next few days are key in the positioning of the MLS Eastern Conference Table.

Closing Out the Match

Josef Martinez
Josef Martinez http://www.uknews.com

As Tata Martino stated in an interview, Atlanta could have up to 55 points right now. The only issue is that they struggle getting the closing goal to shut down any opponent opportunities of equalizing the match.

In the last minutes of a handful of matches, including last week’s against Toronto FC, Atlanta has given up late-time equalizers. 

Even though Atlanta has had a great looking back line to work in synchronicity with their offensive prowess, to close out games they need the extra goal to hit the back of the goal net to grab all 3 points that they deserve by the end of each match.

As much as the image of last year’s playoffs burns inside the heads of all Atlanta United fans, it will only add fuel to the fire for the 5 Stripes players to protect the downtown fortress.

 

Arturo Principe | @ArturoPrincipe1

If you or anyone you know is interested in becoming a writer for ATLSportsHQ please DM Phil Veasley (@_ATLPhil) on Twitter or send a sample article to atlsportshq@gmail.com.

Atlanta United vs. FC Dallas Recap

Barco at Toyota Stadium
Barco at Toyota Stadium http://www.ajc.com

In a heartbreaking 3-2 loss, Atlanta United was not able to grab the 3 points on the road falling to FC Dallas, making them 0-2 in the Lone Star State.

After exhibiting very solid play for almost the entire match, Atlanta United was left stunned after being victims of FC Dallas Forward Tesho Akindele in the 86th minute and, again, in the 88th minute, allowing them to remain undefeated at home for 10 straight matches.

Atlanta United started off the match a bit rough. While they were trying to implement their normal Tiki-Taka style of play, FC Dallas kept possession almost as much as Atlanta did for a good period of time in the 1st half. So much so in fact, that “Los Toros” were able to win a corner kick and score in the 22nd minute to take the lead.

Atlanta was able to stay grounded after the set piece goal and finally found an opening in the 41st minute to tie things up. Tito Villalba made a streaking run to cut the Dallas defense and crossed the ball to Josef Martinez to do what he does best.

Martinez scored his 17th regular season goal and got his brace for the match in the 72nd minute with a pass from Almiron who was left surprisingly wide open across the middle of the goal post. With a quick turn and excellent through ball, Almiron connected with Martinez who sank the ball in the back of the net.

Finishing Stronger

Even though Atlanta United was able to score twice, FC Dallas surprised spectators by coming out of their shell and started to send more players up the pitch to improve their attacking presence near the final minutes of the match.

Towards the end of the 1st half and throughout the 2nd half, FC Dallas’ gameplan was clear and simple: Park the bus and catch the Atlanta United players on the counter. Dallas continued to try this tactic but as the minutes were running out, the tempo became stifled and neither team seemed to be making any real progress.

The winning goal for Dallas happened largely due to miscommunication from one of the less experienced backline players, Miles Robinson. Robinson was originally marking Akindele and left his man unmarked in order to intercept a pass further back. Leaving Akindele unmarked proved to be a huge mistake since he then made a quick run in a wide space and Maximiliano Urruti was able to spot the run and connect the pass that led to the goal.

The concern isn’t with Robinson since mistakes are made regularly on the field and are natural occurrences in growth and development. Where Atlanta showed vulnerability was in counter attacking plays and communication between the backline. These are small kinks in the powerhouse that is Atlanta United and we still have time to iron these out before the start of the MLS playoffs.

The result wasn’t what we expected but with the need to prove a point, Atlanta will hold nothing back against the Philadelphia Union this Saturday.

 

Arturo Principe | @ArturoPrincipe1

If you or anyone you know is interested in becoming a writer for ATLSportsHQ please DM Phil Veasley (@_ATLPhil) on Twitter or send a sample article to atlsportshq@gmail.com.

 

Atlanta United vs. FC Dallas Preview

Miguel Almiron vs. FC Dallas
Miguel Almiron vs. FC Dallas http://www.goal.com

With one half of the regular season down and another one to go, Atlanta United (1st in the Eastern Conference) challenge Western Conference foe, FC Dallas (2nd) this Wednesday at the Toyota Stadium. 

After conceding 6 goals and 6 points in the span of 3 games, “the Toros” will host Atlanta United after their latest marginal win against Minnesota United.

The Set Up

Keeping true to its regular attacking nature, FC Dallas’ predicted formation is 4-3-3 since they have used this formation throughout the season and seem comfortable implementing it. With this setup, Dallas will look to break down the United defense and control the midfield, send its attacking players to overwhelm Atlanta’s backline and force Atlanta to make quick decisions.

However, with this formation, it’s important for the Toros to keep the ball on their feet, which will be difficult because we know how much ATL UTD loves to play possession. If FC Dallas isn’t able to keep the ball throughout its attack, it leaves them extremely vulnerable with plenty of space for Atlanta to break into.

FC Dallas has made the most of opportunities that come through set pieces in the matches they’ve won, so Atlanta needs to keep a tight, defensive shape and set the tempo of the match in order to come out on top.

The Toros may not be as consistent as they’d like to be in terms of wins, but it doesn’t take away from their ability to score and, if a defensive lapse is made, they’ll be sure to capitalize in the same way they did against “the Loons.”

FC Dallas is susceptible to counter runs and, at times, its defense can be seen scrambling back to the opposing player leading the charge.

That’s where the keeper steps in.

Last Line of Defense

Jesse Gonzalez
Jesse Gonzalez http://www.the18.com

Manning the woodwork for FC Dallas is 23-year-old homegrown player Jesse Gonzalez. Gonzalez had a breakout year in 2017 with outstanding performances in both club and country teams, which have carried over to his current MLS season.

Atlanta United has met with Jesse Gonzalez before in our christening of Mercedes-Benz stadium back in September 2017. In this last matchup, Gonzalez notched a season-high eight saves with five of those saves coming in the first 31 minutes.

Still, a season-high performance from Gonzalez was not enough to stop the 3-0 loss FC Dallas suffered that day.  The memories of the shutout will add fuel to the fire for Dallas and with more experience under his belt, Gonzalez will be the man they look for to effectively conduct the backline.

Life Without Nagbe

Darlington Nagbe
Darlington Nagbe http://www.goal.com

With the battle for possession in the midfield, this match will be a tricky one for both sides, especially now since Atlanta United is living life without Darlington Nagbe for the second straight week. However, if last week was any indication of how well we’re handling the situation – then 17’s, we have nothing to worry about.

In last week’s matchup against Orlando City SC, midfielder Julian Gressel showed Atlanta fans that he can fill in the cleats that Nagbe left behind. With impressive work rate and great vision, Gressel orchestrated scoring plays and the eventual 4-0 winning performance from Atlanta United at home. After his quality 90 minutes on the pitch, Gressel has made it difficult for head coach Tata Martino to decide whether to give new Argentine reinforcement, Eric Remedi, starting minutes just yet.

Keeping a solid backline is key for shutting down Dallas this Wednesday and a player who has found himself as an excellent replacement for the injured Greg Garza, is Mikey Ambrose. Ambrose has made leaps and bounds since his days in ATL UTD 2 and was recently named the Man of the Match in the last game due to his defensive efforts. With Ambrose’s energy and the chemistry that he and Gonzalez-Pirez are continually building, the future of the backline looks bright.

 

Arturo Principe | @ArturoPrincipe1

If you or anyone you know is interested in becoming a writer for ATLSportsHQ please DM Phil Veasley (@_ATLPhil) on Twitter or send a sample article to atlsportshq@gmail.com.

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2018 FIFA World Cup Group C Matchday 3 Recap

The main event in Group C took place in the match up between Denmark and France. A win for either team would determine which team would finish 1st or 2nd in the group standings. However, a draw would be enough for both teams to continue on so long as Australia didn’t upset.

World Cup Denmark France
World Cup Denmark France http://www.everythinglubbock.com

In the first 2018 World Cup match that ended as a draw, the match between the Danes and the French was a back-and-forth power struggle for both sides, especially France. With Eriksen as the star playmaker for Denmark, they were able to give France a run for their money.

While France was dominant in possession, neither team had anything to play for, truly. As Denmark sat back, France took charge and controlled the game by setting the pace of the match. The match ended in a draw for both teams and was quite uneventful.

After their performance, France is going to need to do some readjustments in terms of tactics or maybe even in their starting XI because a 2-1 win over Australia, an extremely fortuitous win over a stronger looking Peruvian side, and, most recently, a draw against  Denmark will not be enough moving forward.

Next

Atlanta United vs. Portland Timbers Preview

Gonzalez-Pirez shielding an Attacker
Gonzalez-Pirez shielding an Attacker http://www.oregonlive.com

After falling short in the U.S. Open Cup to the Chicago Fire, Atlanta United get their flannel shirts ready to chop down the Timbers.

While Atlanta United remain in the number one spot in the Eastern Conference of the MLS, they’ll find themselves in a difficult match up with the Portland Timbers, who haven’t tasted defeat in their last 10 games and are currently 6th in the Western Conference. With their most dangerous piece, Diego Valeri, playing in the midfield, the chances the Timbers are able to create in a match is something to keep in mind.

Portland Possession

Atlanta United will be met with a team that enjoys orchestrating build up plays from possession almost as much as us and with Valeri as the conductor, the Portland Timbers have done so successfully throughout the regular season. Known as one of the most efficient finishers in the MLS, Valeri holds 6 goals under his belt and with the ball on his feet, he poses a threat as far out as the middle of the pitch.

Atlanta’s fast paced attack and style of play will have to go through Portland’s experienced midfield first. An important cog in their defensive midfield shape is Colombian midfielder, Diego Chara. While he isn’t particularly big in stature, Chara has a very high work rate and isn’t afraid to make challenges and recover lost balls. The seniority is definitely on Portland’s side and they’ll use their experience to their advantage as much as possible (drawing fouls, etc).

Next

2018 FIFA World Cup Group D Matchday 2 Recap

In Group D’s Matchday 2, an Argentinian squad in poor form squared off against a confident Croatian team looking to continue their victorious streak. 

Messi vs. Croatia
Messi vs. Croatia http://www.caughtoffside.com

The first half of the game was relatively quite for both sides. Even though Croatia was clearly the more organized of the two, the first 45 minutes stayed scoreless with Argentina getting saved by the bell.

So far in this World Cup, there’s been a theme of a scoreless or evenly matched first halves only to have one side explode with goals once the second half starts. And that’s just what Croatia did. The start of Argentina’s descent began in the 54th minute with a careless ball in from Argentinian keeper, Caballero, who passed it directly to Croatia’s Rebic. The left wing player made the most of this mistake and struck the ball hard and true, giving Croatia the lead.

 Zlatko Dalic’s men had an insatiable hunger for goals in Matchday 2 and this hunger was only partly satisfied by Luka Modric. In the 80th minute, Modric was able to catch Caballero off guard and take a shot from outside of the penalty area in what ended up being one, if not the best, goals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup so far.

The final nail in the coffin and the goal that truly summed up the entire match was the stoppage time goal by Croatia’s Rakitic where he simply tapped the ball in the back of an empty, keeper-less net. Throughout the match, Croatia showed how efficiently they work as a team and not only grabbed 3 more points in the standings but also scored 3 goals on supposed World Cup Champion contenders, Argentina and their talisman, Lionel Messi.

Things continue to look bleak for “La Albiceleste” as they continue their disappointing form in this shutout match.

In the following match up for Day 2, it was the “Super Eagles” who took flight for their place in the Round of 16 by playing against Iceland, who hold a single point under their belt.

Nigeria v Iceland: Group D - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Nigeria v Iceland http://www.time.com

During the earlier moments of the match, the Nordic side had poise and control of the ball while Nigeria were trying their best not to concede any goals. The physicality and aerial play that Iceland was imposing on Nigeria caused confusion for their backline in the first 45 minutes. However, as I said earlier, the 2nd half of a World Cup match can be a completely different game all on its’ own.

Nigeria was able to find the back of the net in the 49th minute of regular time from a play that started with a counter and ended with a goal from Ahmed Musa, lifting the “Super Eagles” up by one goal. Then again, in the 75th minute, Musa doubled his goal count. The man of the match was able to beat the Icelandic defense with class and carefully place the ball in the back of the net.

This victory was exactly what Nigeria needed in order to stay in the run for the upcoming round of 16. At this point, Croatia is the only team that has solidified their place in the next round (1st) while any of the other 3 teams are still able to qualify depending on Matchday 3 results.

 

Group D Standings:

Croatia: 6 points, +5 goal differential

Nigeria: 3 points, 0 goal differential

Iceland: 1 point, -2 goal differential

Argentina: 1 point, -3 goal differential

Arturo Principe | @ArturoPrincipe1

If you or anyone you know is interested in becoming a writer for ATLSportsHQ please DM Phil Veasley (@_ATLPhil) on Twitter or send a sample article to atlsportshq@gmail.com.