Match Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps v Atlanta United – Will the ‘Caps be saviours or dead men walking?
Atlanta United are one of the most intriguing teams in MLS right now. It is always fun to see how a new team shapes up. Expansion teams have become a synonym for leaky defences, misfiring strikers, and questionable Designated Players. Not this team; you would forgiven to confuse this Atlanta United set up for a MLS Playoff regular who are just struggling for consistency.
The signing of Tata Martino is one of the biggest managerial signings in MLS history. The former FC Barcelona manager has impressed an attractive style on United; an “attack is the best form of defence” kind of strategy has served his team reasonably well. Atlanta United sit 7th in the East, but with 2 games in hand on their neighbours, potentially slingshotting them to 2nd in the league should they take advantage of them.
The main problem that Atlanta face is putting in their exciting attacking magic week in week out. They have been prone to have games where they are leaky at the back. That being said, comparing Atlanta’s goal difference to that of the Caps is telling: Atlanta have scored 12 more goals over 12 games, and have conceded the same amount. Containing the explosive and cunning Miguel Almiron will be the biggest challenge, but there is also still plenty to be concerned with in players like Hector Villalba and Julian Gressel.
The Whitecaps crashed out of the Canadian Championship disappointedly midweek, albeit with a heavily rotated squad taking to the field. Nonetheless, the management will be looking for a reaction from the squad to continue their solid MLS form. After last week’s spectacle against DC United, all eyes will be on Robbo on how he can improve the team’s fortunes in front of goal.
Fredy Montero has had a frustrating couple of games. So much of the striker game is about confidence, and while he may be going through a mini-crisis, he is undoubtedly the side’s best option in an attacking sense. I feel that play of his quality will start finding the back of the net sooner rather than later, and if the service we have seen in the last month or so continues, we could see a flood of goals.
The midfield against DC did alright. They controlled the game for large parts, but in my opinion, they allowed a tired and out of form team to counter attack effectively far too often. They need to show a bit more steel, and try to bully this Atlanta team that will pass around you all day long if you don’t get in their face.
With that in mind, I’d have loved to have seen an attacking midfield three of Cristian Techera, Nicolas Mezquida, and Alphonso Davies. These three players play both ways, and have the energy and workrate to help control the midfield. Sadly, Mezquida’s injury on Tuesday looks a bad one. He shared an photo of himself in a walking boot on Instagram yesterday and Robbo confirmed at training on Friday that he’ll be out for at least six to eight weeks.
That will almost certainly see Christian Bolanos continue in the midfield role. Depending on team selection, will we see him as the 10 or on the right wing?
Davies changed the game when he came on against Montreal on Tuesday, a reminder of the special talent that we have on our hands. But with 70+ minutes played last Saturday, and another 45 minutes on Tuesday, I would not be surprised to see him start this one on the bench, with the ‘Caps going back to the 4-1-4-1 formation and line-up that went unchanged for five straight matches up to Mati Laba’s suspension last weekend.
I still would prefer Davies in there and taking the game to Atlanta, rather than soaking up their pressure.
The backline will be dealing with a different kind of threat. The opposition will not be as direct as regular MLS opposition, so Sheanon Williams, Kendall Waston, Tim Parker and Jordan Harvey will need to be on their toes. Parker was frequently caught flat footed against Montreal, hopefully it was just a blip, and hopefully that game hasn’t taken too much out of him as he needs to be at his best in this one.
Likewise, David Ousted will have to be on his A-game if the backline fails to control Almiron and Villalba.
Will Almiron light up the midfield for the visitors?
Will Fredy Montero turn his form around?
If the ‘Caps get a penalty, who will take it?
Michael: 3-1 Atlanta