The Five Stripes Are Stepping Up Under Interim Manager Rob Valentino.
Whatever Rob Valentino is doing (or just as importantly not doing), he needs to keep imposing his will and man-managing with the Five Stripes. Last night was Valentino's first win in his interim role, and with the 3-2 win at Columbus' Lower.com Field, Atlanta sits on 18 points with a 3-6-9 record. Here are a few of my takeaways from last night:
Even with Josef Martinez suspended due to the red card he received in the last game, Atlanta found their way forward. Using a combination of pace and possession, the Five Stripes, led by Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno, continually penetrated Columbus' defensive third, got bodies into zone 14, and took their chances well. Barco's 50-yard run with the ball in the fifth minute resulted in a one-two with George Bello and a goal...not something we have seen too often this year.
I like Jonathan Mensah, one of Columbus' center backs. He wins balls in the air, is hard into the tackle, and has the ability to get forward at times. With that said, something is wrong with the Crew's backline. They have now given up eleven goals in their last 3 games, and Atlanta was able to consistently find space to attack and get chances.
What happened to Ezequiel Barco at the Tokyo Olympic Games? I don't care whether he visited Buddhist Temples and their Zen gardens or experienced the aura of Mount Fuji. Last night, he was fantastic, putting Columbus under a tremendous amount of pressure with his pace and yes, vision. I have never been a fan of Barco, but whatever happened to him at the Olympics needs to continue with the last sixteen regular season games.
Marcelino Moreno has figured out Major League Soccer. There are quality attacking midfielders in the league, but if Moreno's last three games are examples of his quality, Atlanta's opponents are in for a rough go. More important than his quality on the ball, Moreno brings the Five Stripes a combination of tactical awareness and technical ability, along with that extra set of savviness that led to Atlanta converting two penalties last night.
Atlanta now gets a full week of needed rest before next Sunday's match against LAFC at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Josef Martinez will be back from suspension and well-rested, so you would think that the attacking trio of Martinez, Moreno, and Barco will be a big test for Bob Bradley's backline. Then add the possibility of transfer-window signee Luiz Araújo getting some minutes next week, and one must feel that Atlanta may have a chance of getting to the seventh and final playoff spot.
That is my take, what is yours? @gary1123 justmytake.net
Photo credit: Major League Soccer