MLS Cup Finals Preview: Atlanta United vs. Portland Timbers

As the 5 Stripes get set to host a locked on Portland Timbers team, soccer in the South is more present than ever this Saturday in Downtown Atlanta.

Almiron celebration
Almiron celebration http://www.usatoday.com

For the first time in Atlanta sports history, the city will host the MLS Cup finals in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium with the hometown team participating. Who would’ve thought that the Benz would have futbol finals played inside of it and not football?

The work and determination that Atlanta United has clocked in over the last 2 years has been enough to cause a rumble within the entire league of the MLS, in a positive manner. Hiring the executives and higher ups that they did in order to establish a solid idea and have that idea trickle down the totem pole worked for Atlanta’s advantage.

Securing Tata Martino as Head Coach, a highly influential coach with connections all over the world, was a main selling point in finalizing many player transfer deals like Almiron’s or Ezequiel Barco’s. Everyone wants to go where Martino goes.

With this being Martino’s last match in the A, there’s no doubt in my mind that tributes will be played and recognition will be given to the mastermind behind the Starting XI every week that’s led us to the MLS Cup Finals.

Feelin’ Good, Feelin’ Great

MLS: D.C. United at Atlanta United FC
Mar 11, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United forward Andrew Carleton (30) celebrates with midfielder Darlington Nagbe (6) after their game against the D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports http://www.usatoday.com

ATL UTD is coming into this MLS Cup Final with no notable injuries from the main players that have being seen action throughout the season. Greg Garza has been up to  100% for over a month and has been playing beautifully, as if he’d never left. Martino is likely to use Garza in the regular Left Back position to X out any Portland attack from that side.

The Atlanta attack is notable for having the faces of the franchise (Almiron, Martinez, Villalba) but the Atlanta backline has played a very important role in their playoffs victories. By keeping the goals against to a minimum, Atlanta has been able to outscore the opponent and secure the W.

Seeing as we’ve only lost in the Benz twice this entire season, it’s going to be very hard for the Timbers to get any sort of momentum going, to say the least, especially with an expected 72,000+ Atlanta fans making their presence known tonight.

Draw is not an Option

Andy Polo Portland Timbers
Andy Polo Portland Timbers http://www.usatoday.com

With the immense amount of pressure on both teams, things can go either of two ways: 1. They tighten up the defense and both teams end up scoreless.

2. It’s a tight game – one team edges out the other by the minimum margin.

With that being said, anything can happen in the Finals. I wouldn’t be surprised if one team completely blew out the other. According to statistics, however, Atlanta has a 70% chance of winning it all, and while Portland has been great on the road (taking out Seattle and Sporting Kansas City both as visitors) this may be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The midfield is where the Timbers look the most deadly. With the experienced Diego Valeri aka El Maestro pulling all of the strings, and their ridiculously fast wingers like Andy Polo, Portland has no trouble getting into the opponent’s upper third. Atlanta has to be prepared for fast-paced attacks and counter-attacks that have gotten the Portland Timbers this far into the game.

Arturo Principe | @ArturoPrincipe1

 

 

 

 

 

Atlanta United moves on to the Conference Finals! | NYCFC Leg 2 Recap

For the first time ever in Atlanta United history, the 5 Stripes move on to the Conference Finals of the 2018 MLS Playoffs. 

Guzan and Barco share an embrace
Guzan and Barco share an embrace http://www.929thegame.com

In stunning fashion, Atlanta took control of their own fate when it was crunch time.

Already coming in hot with a 1-0 score after leaving Yankee Stadium, Tata Martino’s squad were able to demonstrate how much they wanted to advance in the playoffs after two great goals from Martinez and Almiron, respectively.

Josef’s goal came from a provoked penalty. As always, his spunk showed through the cheeky set up of the penalty kick and he found the back of the net, as he has so many times before during the regular MLS season.

Miguel Almiron
Miguel Almiron http://www.apnews.com

After getting thrown around and tackled by what seemed to be the majority of the NYCFC lineup, Almiron’s goal arrived just in time.

His speed was able to earn him a free kick in a great spot for a classy goal. Almiron’s free kick hit the upper 90 of the New York net and before the first half was over, Atlanta was up 2-0. Just as the halftime whistle was about to blow, NYCFC were able to breathe some life into their game as Chanot scored 1 for the away team.

A bad giveaway from New York led to Martinez scoring Atlanta United’s 3rd goal of the game. After that, the score remained the same.

Josef-Martinez-in-Nike-Superfly
Josef Martinez in Nike Superfly http://www.soccerhowtodo.com

After a bad end to their MLS regular season, it seems that Atlanta United have found their rhythm once more and it couldn’t have come at a better time. With Almiron healthy and the rest of their regular starting XI in good form, Atlanta is coming into the conference finals shooting on all cylinders.

The next challenge will be facing the New York Red Bulls late November to see which team moves on to the finals. The Red Bulls, who took the Supporters’ Shield from Atlanta at the very last match of the regular season, are playing great soccer and beat out the Columbus Crew on a 3-1 aggregate score to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.

Arturo Principe | @ArturoPrincipe1

ATL UTD vs. Chicago Fire Recap

With Almiron and Villalba both out in what was one of the less exciting ATL UTD home matches, the 5 Stripes pulled off a victory against the Chicago Fire last Sunday.

Gressel vs. Chicago Fire
Gressel vs. Chicago Fire http://www.hottimeinoldtown.com

Finally playing at the Benz again after a series of road games, Atlanta United clinched their CONCACAF Champions League 2019 spot with a home win over Chicago and are set to participate in international competition next year.

Many speculations were made due to the absences of the big name players like Miguel or Tito in this match and just how Tata Martino would tinker with the lineup to make up for their play-making creativity (Almiron) and explosiveness down the width of the pitch (Villalba). However, the starting XI more than held their own against the Men in Red.

Atlanta United, armed in a 4-3-3 formation, gave homegrown Andrew Carleton the nod to start as well as Ezequiel Barco, both of which tend to come on as subs throughout the game.

After only 9 minutes, Defender Franco Escobar received the perfect opportunity to give the 5 Stripes the lead and he was able to convert. A fortunate pass/stumble from Martinez saw Escobar with the perfect angle to the goal and tapping it in was all it took.  This was the Right Back’s first MLS goal and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Friendly Fire

Mccann vs. Chicago Fire
McCann vs. Chicago Fire http://www.usatoday.com

The Chicago Fire were able to remain level with ATL UTD as De Leeuw scored in the 24th minute but their celebration was short lived.

Chris McCann sent a cross in that took a deflection and ended up in the back of Chicago’s net. An own goal only 2 minutes after their first goal made sure Atlanta stayed on top.

The stars aligned and everything seemed to go Atlanta’s way this past Sunday as we remain atop of the Eastern Conference table (as well as tying the MLS point record). However, with the New York Red Bulls still only 1 point behind us, like they have been for the larger part of the regular season, the pressure is still on and it’s going to come down to the final week of action to see which team walks away with the highly coveted MLS Supporters’ Shield.

Arturo Principe | @ArturoPrincipe1

 

ATL UTD vs. San Jose Earthquakes Preview

With their confidence sky-high, the 5 Stripes continue their Western trek as they gear up for a midweek match against the San Jose Earthquakes, led by team Captain, Chris Wondolowski.

Tata Martino
Tata Martino http://www.myajc.com

Atlanta United are headed to California after showing out in an earlier match against the Colorado Rapids and beating the home team by a score of 3-0. The team is looking great and was running like a well-oiled machine this Saturday. With the Supporters’ Shield on the line, it couldn’t come a better time.

It seems as if every week we take turns sharing the number 1 spot with the Red Bulls.

The New York Red Bulls (currently 2nd in the Eastern Conference) haven’t let up on the gas all season and are keeping us competitive.

Saturday’s match served as a boost to morale for the United players and raised their spirits. If we’re being honest, the Rapids are one of the worst teams in their conference and they are not an accurate picture of what a playoff caliber team will perform like. However, If we can continue to perform how we did against them, I think we’ll be hitting a perfect stride come playoffs time.

On the other hand, the Earthquakes were caught on the receiving end of a total beatdown by the most consistent Western Conference team, Sporting Kansas City.

Standing in last place in their conference, San Jose has seen better days and are currently far from their best form. However, with a shocking 4-3 win over FC Dallas, they’ve proved to themselves and to their fans that they still play to win.

Most likely playing with a 4-4-2 holding formation, San Jose will brace themselves from the Atlanta offense by loading up in the midfield and in the backline. The Earthquakes have two strikers that understand each other very well (Kazaishvili and Hoesen) and that’s where the real danger lies.

Valeri Qazaishvili “Vako”
Valeri Qazaishvili Vako http://www.sjearthquakes.com

The quick turnaround between matches will definitely affect both teams but this is a great opportunity for Atlanta United to give their bench players more minutes.

Andrew Carleton and George Bello, both products of and regular starters in ATL UTD 2, have been doing a good job of keeping up with the pace of the match, even in the heat of a tough situation, like the match against D.C. United and deserve more minutes.

Arturo Principe | @ArturoPrincipe1

Josef Makes History in Atlanta’s 2-1 Win Over Orlando SC

Josef (Kim Klement USA Today).jpeg
Josef Martinez (Kim Klement | USA Today)

Nobody has ever scored more goals in a MLS season than Josef Martinez. 

We all knew it was coming, we just didn’t know when. And what better place for it to happen than in Orlando against our Disney World rivals. After a huge missed opportunity late in the first half, it appeared that history may have had to wait. It was evident that Atlanta was trying to force things to Josef through the first 25 minutes of the second half.

But finally in the 74th minute, Josef broke through. With Atlanta on the fast break, Martinez was finally able to get some space. Joe Bendik came slightly off his line and was unable to stop history.

In the start, neither side was able to get much going until new father LGP rocketed one through to open the scoring. The sides would trade chances after that with Orlando finally breaking through in the 39th minute with a goal from Scott Sutter.

Shortly after, Josef would miss an absolute sitter and we’d head to halftime deadlocked at one.

The win puts the Five Stripes at 54 points on the season (16-6-4). With 8 games to go, Atlanta is just 15 points shy of the all time MLS single season record of 69 points set by Toronto FC just last year. If it wasn’t for some of the points dropped late in games this year, United would be on pace to absolutely shatter that record.

As for the whimpering Lions; they put up a good fight but as always it would not be enough. They are still winless in six tries against Atlanta and only have one win in their last 16 matches.

The Five Stripes now have a 5 point lead over NYRB (49 Points, 25 GP) for the Supporter’s Shield and 1st place in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta also extended their lead over NYCFC (48 Points, 26 GP) to six points. The midweek draw involving NYRB and NYCFC was huge. If Atlanta manages to finish the season 4 points clear of NYCFC, an automatic berth to the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League will be scored.

Continue on to the next page for a full scoring and statistical breakdown and a look ahead to what’s next.hqnextbutton2-e1527361368863

Atlanta United Dominate Columbus Crew 3-1

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

Atlanta United finally got a much needed comfortable home win. 

Despite still being near the top of the Supporter’s Shield standings, Atlanta United have had a bad habit of dropping points this season in the final 10 minutes. Most recently against Toronto, where both of their goals occurred in stoppage time of the first and second halves. The 3-1 victory had to feel good for the squad. It also had to have somewhat rinsed the sour aftertaste of not only the Toronto match but also the disappointing playoff exit to the hands of the crew last October.

There would be no such letdown Sunday afternoon at the Benz. Josef Martinez scored his 27th (and came inches from his 28th) and Tito Villalba and Miguel Almiron also scored in the 2nd half to secure the victory for the Five Stripes.

Through the first 30 minutes neither team was able to get much going toward the goal. Columbus was also doing a good job containing Josef Martinez. But as Atlanta does so well, they were able to get out in transition which led to a left footed screamer into the back of the net for goal number 27. Josef now sits tied atop the list for all time goals scored in a MLS season with 9 matches still remaining on the season.

Atlanta would head into halftime leading 1-0. They would however start the second half sluggish and concede a goal just 5 minutes into the second half. Gyasi Zardes netted the equalizer in the 50th minute. A few minutes later, Columbus came within a great Brad Guzan save from jumping out to a 2-1 lead.

Things appeared shaky at that point for Atlanta but they would dig down. Josef came within inches of breaking the record in the 69th minute as his header fell off the crossbar. After a questionable (to Columbus at least) no call on a handball, Atlanta was off to the races. Tito Villaba and Josef Martinez streaked downfield and Tito fired a rocket past Zack Steffen to put the Five Stripes up 2-1. One could argue that Tito could’ve dropped the ball off to Josef but at the end of the day all that matters is that we scored.

In the 82nd minute, Josef again came close to history but elected to send the ball off to Miguel Almiron who sent an absolute laser. It was a much needed goal for Miggy who has struggled finished all season long.

The much needed win puts Atlanta United at 51 Points (25 GP 2.04 PPG 15-4-6) on the season with 9 games remaining. If they continue at this pace they would match the MLS record of 69 points set by Toronto just last season. Also of note: Saturday Evening New York Red Bulls Draw (48 Points 24 GP 2 PPG) and NYCFC Loss (47 Points 25 GP 1.88 PPG), had favorable results to put Atlanta in sole possession of 1st in the East and Supporter’s Shield Standings.  If Atlanta manages to finish the season 4 points clear of NYCFC, an automatic berth to the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League will be scored.

Continue on to the next page for a full scoring and statistical breakdown and a look ahead to what’s next.

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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

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