Atlanta United: Are they the most exciting team in the MLS?
On Sunday, Atlanta United demolished D.C. United 3-1 in front of over 70,000 at Mercedes Benz Stadium to send a statement to the rest of the MLS.
After their opening day hammering away at Houston Dynamos, Atlanta United fans were seeking assurances that their debut campaign in MLS had not been a flash in the pan.
An MLS attendance record was set at Mercedes Benz Stadium as Atlanta turned on the flair to run out comfortable 3-1 winners against a poor D.C. United team.
Founded in the wake of the Atlanta Falcons’ stadium expansion which took place between 2013-17, Atlanta United managed to secure a place in the playoffs at the end of the season, finally losing to Columbus Crew SC on penalties in the first playoff game.
With this impressive breakout season, there are those questioning whether or not Atlanta United are the most exciting team in MLS.
An important legacy
Atlanta United were a phenomenal expansion team last season, finishing fourth in MLS. They scored 70 goals and conceded 40, giving them the second best goal difference in the league.
They also enjoyed the best support in the league as an average of over 48,000 attended their games. Selling out the brand new Mercedes Benz Stadium on numerous occasions, this team has clearly captured the heart of a city.
It is important now that Atlanta build on the momentum they gained last season.
They invested over the summer with Ezequiel Barco joining from Independiente for $15 million. The purchase of the 18 year old shows just how committed the club are to building foundations for the future – Atlanta have quickly become the biggest player in MLS.
Part of the appeal to Atlanta United is the speediness of their attacking play.
Former Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino has set his team up to play very similar to Barcelona. They line up with a 3-5-2 and look to suffocate their opponents with a high pressing game while retaining the ball when they have possession.
On Sunday, Atlanta tormented D.C. United with their pace when going forward. Josef Martinez, Hector Villalba and Miguel Almirón are three of the best attacking players in MLS and they continue to show why they are so highly rated.
Last night they were unplayable: the three players combined for 11 shots, three goals and two assists as they decimated a hapless D.C. defence.
Dynamic performance after Dynamo defeat
Against Houston, Atlanta played with a 4-2-3-1 formation which never worked. They went back to basics against D.C. and it paid off.
Julian Gressel and Greg Garza were phenomenal, playing as full backs with both getting up and down the channels while working tirelessly for the team.
The extra centre back also gave the team more balance and allowed their attacking players to express themselves. Their 18 crosses, 16 shots and ten key passes show just how good Atlanta were compared to their performance against Houston where they floundered in the first half – in that match, they were losing 4-0 by half-time.
Martino made sure his team calmed play down early on as his team dominated possession and they eventually look the lead on 24 minutes through Martinez. After that point the team never looked back.
All three of the goals Atlanta put past D.C. keeper David Ousted at the weekend were off the highest quality.
The first was a sweeping move that saw Villalba fire a lovely ball into the perfect place for Martinez to slide it home from six yards out.