Fourteen Minutes That Will Live In Infamy.
Atlanta United Salvages A 3-3 Draw with CF Montreal.
You must give credit where credit is due. As a rule, Major League Soccer teams usually have a lapse in performance in games preceded by a mid-week CONCACAF Champions League match. Until late in yesterday's Atlanta United - Montreal match, the boys from Ville-Marie proved that rule wrong with a stellar performance against the Five Stripes. Here are some takeaways from what turned out to be a very interesting 90+ minutes.
What is causing the repetitive and systemic 'turn on / turn off' syndrome with Atlanta United? Could it be the lack of on-field leadership? Is it the tactics employed by manager Gonzalo Pineda? Maybe it is due to some of the very young players still in the starting eleven while some soon-to-be starters get fit? Whatever the reasons may be, Pineda now has the international break to figure out the fourteen strange minutes of yesterday's first half. With all that said, of the three goals Montreal scored before half, only one was a lack of tracking or man-marking, with Ozzie Alonso unable to stop 19-year-old Ismael Kone' run and eventual well-taken 37th minute goal. Atlanta's infamous corner kick, that resulted in Montreal's first goal was a calamity at best, and Miles Robinson's alleged takedown of Kone, resulting in a Montreal penalty, was very soft. It is, to the best of my knowledge, a full 90-minute affair and Atlanta must figure out how to change the 'switching off' syndrome.
The good news is that once again, the deep player pool developed by Atlanta's front office paid off. Halftime substitutes Thiago Almada, George Campbell, and Jake Mulraney helped change the game in the last forty-five minutes. The change in Atlanta's shape helped as well, allowing the Five Stripes to get forward with Mulraney and Almada imposing their will on the flanks. A tactical change to two front runners was well-conceived by not exactly executed as substitute Dom Dwyer only stayed on the field for three minutes before he was red-carded for a nasty and immature foul. Almada's 85th minute goal, his first for Atlanta, and Brooks Lennon's free-kick in extra time are must-see TV.
The upside is that Atlanta has taken seven of twelve available points without designated player Luis Araujo and the still recovering Santiago Sosa, Emerson Hyndman, Franco Ibarra, and Machop Choi. Thiago Almada is still integrating into his new club and new city, and you can expect him to be an impact player once he gets more training and game time. One other bright spot from yesterday's match was the well-taken goal from Josef Martinez. It was great to see Josef score in the run of play.
After four games, Atlanta sits on seven points and is tied for third in the Eastern Conference. You can assume that manager Gonzalo Pineda will be taking a hard look at his squad and work through the lapse in focus, especially in those 14 minutes of the first half. Though Pineda must be disappointed with yesterday's one point, he must be proud of his team, who has made last minute comebacks in three of their last 5 regular season games.
We now turn our focus to the international break and Thursday's war at the Estadio Azteca. The dynamic is different these days, but I will not soon forget these formidable Mexican National Team players who paved the way for El Tri: Pavel Pardo, Benjamín Galindo, Alberto García Aspe, Jared Borgetti, Carlos Hermosillo, Luis Hernández, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, and Hugo Sánchez. These players made the USA v Mexico matches great fun to watch. Thursday night should be no different.
Note: Don't miss the MLS Now podcasts and posts. They are well done with League insights, information and match recaps. if you would like to listen in on the Atlanta United pre- and post-game podcast, find the Atlanta Journal & Constitution's Doug Roberson and his Southern Fried Soccer.
Gary Levitt @gary1123 justmytake.net
Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports