After Friday night's shellacking of Orlando City, Atlanta United is now 7-7-9 and sits one point out of the 7th place playoff line. Not too many of us thought this pivot could happen so quickly.
Give credit where credit is due. Rob Valentino's magic after taking over from the disposed Gabriel Heinze. Valentino, designated as the interim manager, stepped back into an assistant coach role under new manager Gonzalo Pineda. Pineda, an assistant under Seattle Sounders' manager Brian Schmetzer, has capitalized on Valentino's efforts to produce a club that has its confidence and a bit of swag back. Refreshing to say the least.
Similar to most MLS teams, the Five Stripes have been without some key players due to international duty. Atlanta's reserve players have stepped up, including center back George Campbell. Campbell is an imposing figure, good with the ball at his feet, and will provide some backfill when Miles Robinson is scooped up by an English or German side.
One aspect of Friday night's 3-0 win is not lost on me. Pineda, forced to play a different lineup due to four players away to international duty, played a different shape, using what is referred to as a "false-nine." This formation does not include a front-running central striker and allows the one or two most forward players a bit of free reign to come back for that first or second ball out of the back and make various runs looking for the first-time or direct ball. Ezequiel Barco and newly acquired Luis Araujo executed this "false-nine" to perfection, drawing Orlando City's two center backs higher than usual and creating space behind both. Don't shoot the messenger but Atlanta United scored three goals without Josef Martinez. If Josef had been available Friday night, would Pineda have employed the same "false-nine" tactic? Don't misunderstand my question, I am not suggesting the Five Stripes played better without Josef. I am just referring to the dynamic attack Atlanta put together Friday night. The result, however, does give one something to think about for the next eleven regular season games.
I caught a good bit of flack regarding last week's post lamenting the fact that 'I deserved more' from the U.S. Men's National Team. I am all good with the criticism as I gave my take and I do enjoy yours as well. The bottom line, even though Gregg Berhalter missed badly with the first half tactics, positioning, and players, is that the boys answered my ask to forget about the 'away game' stigma and employ their will. That last 45 minutes in Honduras showed me that there are many players in the USMNT pool that really care about getting to Qatar.
That is my take, what is yours? @gary1123 justmytake.net
photo credit: MLS.com