For the first time since 2017, Real Salt Lake host Atlanta United. 2019 started a bit rough for the reigning MLS Cup Champions, but they seems to be finding their old form. We spoke to Sydney Hunte of Dirty South Soccer to get some insight on Atlanta and how the team is doing with all their changes this year.
It seems a lot of Atlanta United fans were less than thrilled by the start under Frank de Boer. The team has now won six of their last eight games, including a five game winning streak. What is the mentality around the fanbase in regards to de Boer now?
It’s true that a good group of fans weren’t happy with the way things began, and I think part, not all of it, can be traced in some form or fashion to Concacaf Champions League and the number of matches the team had to play. I say that part of it can be traced to that because, at the end of the day, the performance of the team does fall firmly on de Boer’s shoulders. I think what really hurt him was his stubborn mentality - trying too hard to put his imprint on the club too early, which led to some adverse results (and a minority of fans calling for his firing). However, he has helped this team develop more of a defensive identity than it had in past years, allowing just 9 goals - tied with LAFC for lowest in that department. It has come with a cost as Atlanta’s attack has not held up its end of the bargain: after a pair of 70-goal seasons in 2017 and 2018 it’s only netted 13.
In short, while it did take a step back in a loss to the Red Bulls on Sunday, at least it had been putting some results together, but if and when the offense starts going this team will be that much harder to beat. To that end, I think that de Boer is in a little better standing than he was earlier in the season.
Pity Martinez came into the league with high expectations around him, but he’s only scored one goal in his 11 games with Atlanta — what does he need to do to score more, how can the team support him?
It’s disappointing because the win against Orlando City was the best he’s played all year long. The frustrating part is his digression against the Red Bulls; you saw a lot of bad habits that have plagued him since coming to MLS creep back up again. I don’t know if it’s a lack of confidence or something deeper, but I’ll raise my hand and say that I expected him to score more than 1 goal at this point in the season. One big thing that stands out - and this isn’t his fault - is that he simply isn’t Miguel Almiron. The two are different players with different styles, and part of Almiron’s success in Atlanta can be contributed to his very close on-and-off the field relationship with Josef Martinez, a relationship that Josef Martinez called more of a brotherhood than a friendship. Those are bonds that you can’t build through just a third of the MLS season.
Eventually, I think Pity will come good, but it has to happen sooner or later - otherwise he’ll completely fall out of favor among the fanbase and, possibly, with his manager.
Atlanta fell 1-0 to a New York Red Bulls team that spent most of the match down a man — what went wrong in that game for Atlanta and how can they improve in this game? Will that loss be a confidence shaker or light a fire under the team?
I think just a lack of attacking prowess that was this club’s identity in the first two years of its existence. Under Tata Martino, this was a club that could burn you offensively, a style that few teams were really able to bottle up. The teams that did, like the Red Bulls, have thrived by engaging a pressure defense that forces Atlanta to a more possession-based style and takes away one of its real strengths that have made it successful in its brief history. From a more game-based standpoint, Atlanta were never to really have a clear chance on goal other than a one-on-one chance Josef Martinez had with Luis Robles that eventually went begging. Conventional wisdom says that with 11 men to 10, you’re at an advantage, but Atlanta were unable to capitalize on it and let in the eventual game-winner on a bit of a defensive breakdown.
That’s really the big flaw of this team as of now: it will look to hold possession, patiently try to nick a goal or two and let its defense do the rest. The problem is, if you’re not scoring, then you - simply - won’t win, and as good as Atlanta’s defense has been, its offense, as I mentioned, has been lacking for the most part. Hopefully, the loss at New York does serve as a wake-up call and be a small bump in the road rather than a moment that leads to a complete digression.
You can read our responses to Dirty South’s questions at here: