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lethalweapon3

Same Ole Atlanta United 2018

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At the game in Chicago with my two sons.  One son moved here from Atlanta recently, as I did ten years ago.  Other son is in town from D.C.

We're on the center line, five rows back.

Literally hundreds of Atlanta fans are here.  Brad Guzan is from Chicago.

Go Five Stripes (we're all wearing our jerseys)!!

IMG_20180505_191417.jpg

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It’s all about style points at this juncture. Atlanta United has been taking virtually all comers, and they bring home their eight-game unbeaten streak for a midweek tilt with Sporting KC (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports South and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports KC). When Atlanta coach Tata Martino looks across the Benz pitch today, he’ll find his model for long-term MLS stability.

Peter Vermes came to Kansas City and won the MLS Cup as a player in 2000, two years before retiring. He took over as the team’s Technical Director in 2006, then took over as the head coach in the middle of the 2009 season. Vermes hasn’t looked back since.

Under Vermes’ watch, Sporting KC won the MLS Cup in 2013, and the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup three times in the past six years, including 2017. The club rewarded him this week with yet another contract extension, one that should carry him through the 2023 season. He won his 150th MLS match when the Western Conference leaders (6-2-2 W-L-T) clean-sheeted Colorado by a 1-0 score this past Saturday.

The win over the Rapids was KC’s second-straight game involving a 1-0 final score (losing by that slim margin a week before, in New England). Four of their six victories have come by way of a single goal, one exception being a 2-0 win on the road against the Galaxy. Superb work yet again from the 2017 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Tim Melia (1.2 GAA in 2018, lowest among GKs having faced 40+ shots), the wizardry of 2017 Defender of the Year Ike Opara, and a commitment to defensive principles by the midfielders, have allowed Sporting to come out on top in so many close-to-the-vest games.

KC was clinging to a 1-0 lead last August, at Children’s Mercy Park in KCK, when a defensive lapse allowed one of their former players, winger Jacob Peterson, to score in the 91st minute and grant Atlanta a draw in stoppage time. In comparison to this upcoming match, United played without striker Josef Martinez.

Also, Kansas City’s key striker from last season, Latif Blessing, and midfielder Benny Feilhaber now toil together in Tinseltown with LAFC, while forward Gerso Fernandes (no goals, 1 assist through 8 games; team-high 8 goals in 2017) has struggled to get going. Trading Dom Dwyer last July in a mega-transfer deal to Atlanta’s next opponent, Orlando City SC, didn’t do wonders for the KC offense, either.

The visitors brought in Scottish footballer Johnny Russell and Chilean midfielder Felipe Gutierrez in the offseason. Scoring a team-high 5 goals apiece, the pair have accounted for nearly half of Sporting’s offensive output thus far. One of the team’s former developmental players, Hungarian forward Daniel Solloi (2 goals, 4 assists in 9 appearances), has stepped things up in his first full MLS season. Solloi (current Audi Index Player of the Week, MLS Team of the Week member) will need to keep the pedal to the ball, and Gerso has to catch fire soon, now that it’s clear Gutierrez (out for another couple months with a sports hernia) will miss more time.

Unlike Montreal, KC is a team capable of parking the proverbial bus with a lead in hand, so it will be essential for Atlanta (7-1-1; 2.55 goals per game, 2nd in MLS behind the Red Bulls) to penetrate and find the net to grab the initial lead, placing KC’s defensive-minded players like 5-time All-Star midfielder Graham Zusi, and center-forward Khiry Shelton, on their heels.

With the short turnaround, both clubs are inclined to rest some starters. ATLUTD more so, because their next match comes this weekend in rival-town Orlando, whereas KC gets 10 full days off for rest and practice. Vermes will likely put his best offensive outfit in place at the outset, then lock things down with subs if his side can gain a one- or two-goal advantage. Martino, meanwhile, will have to get creative with his backline.

Franco Escobar picked up a thoracic injury after colliding with goalkeeper Brad Guzan during last weekend’s 2-1 win in Chicago. Chris McCann (hamstring) missed that game, and Coach Tata may not wish to risk a McCann suspension for yellow-card compilation ahead of the Orlando game. Soldiering along with his troublesome shoulder, Greg Garza could also use a spell. Defenders Sal Zizzo, Miles Robinson and Mikey Ambrose may all have critical roles in keeping KC out of the box. That may be enough to allow Josef, if he can resist the temptation of running offsides, to be the difference maker in a close affair.

 

Let’s Go United!

~lw3

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For Orlando City SC, the iron has never been hotter.  Before a national audience and a raucous home crowd, with a shot at overtaking the top spot in the points-per-game MLS table, how ready will they be able to strike visiting rival Atlanta United (6:00 PM Eastern, FS1, 92.9 FM in ATL)?

Aside from maybe hockey’s Vegas Golden Knights, no team has fans who have tired of hearing about Atlanta United FC’s smashing out-the-gate success than Orlando City. Whereas their southeastern soccer colleagues broke into the MLS Playoffs in their inaugural season, OCSC has finished a backsliding 7th, 8th, and 10th in the MLS Eastern Conference since their 2015 debut.

Further, they were forced to sell their all-time leader in appearances and goals, Cyle Larin, to European side Besiktas in the last offseason, after he held out and failed to show up for practice. Longtime soccer star Kaka retired, and Carlos Rivas was traded to the Red Bulls. Still, after making plenty of big moves, including the Red Bulls trade for midfielder Sacha Kljestan, Orlando City and its fans have a right to feel they’re due for some success of their own.

Atlanta’s red-card-laden loss on Wednesday to Sporting KC leaves Orlando (6-2-1 W-L-T) as the only MLS club that hasn’t suffered an L since the end of March. The Lions have rattled off six consecutive victories since their last defeat, which came on St. Patty’s Day at Yankee Stadium versus NYCFC, including a 3-1 win here at Orlando City Stadium against Real Salt Lake.

Former Cobb County local star and Atlanta Silverbacks U23 goalkeeper Joe Bendik reverted to his aggressive 2017 form (MLS-his 118 saves last season), collecting a season-high eight saves versus RSL to help preserve the home side’s sixth-straight win, this one a second-half comeback after falling behind early. It has been the consistency on offense that has surged coach Jason Kreis’ club toward the top of the MLS table.

The MLS-record transfer fee for former KC star Dom Dwyer is paying off. Half of his six goals this season (tied with Atlanta’s Miguel Almiron and one score behind Josef Martinez) were game-winners. The focal point of Orlando’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Dwyer has been aided by an array of midfielders, including Kljestan, who don’t mind helping themselves to a shot on goal or two on occasion, either.

"It's been good over this six-game winning streak,” Kljestan said told the postgame media. “I’ve had a goal or an assist in all six of the games, Dom’s gotten a goal in five of those six, [midfielder Yoshi Yotún, 3 goals, team-high 5 assists] has put up two goals and a few assists as well, the overall attack has been good and we’ve scored a lot of goals.” 

"It's just an awesome feeling,” added Bendik, who recalled too many occasions where Orlando would dig holes for themselves and rarely escape. “In the last two years, we’ve never come from behind to actually win a game and we’ve done that four or five times this season. That’s incredible.”

Yotún, Kljestan, Chris Mueller and Justin Meram were already eager to test Atlanta’s depleted backline, to say nothing of whoever it is coach Tata Martino must turn to in front of his own net.

Brad Guzan had been stellar coming into the match versus Kansas City. But while overcompensating for his injury-dwindled defenders, he made an unwise DOGSO (“Denial of Goal Scoring Opportunity”) dive on a KC breakaway by Khiry Shelton. That risky decision cost him a red card and suspended him for today’s match.

While The Five Stripes had entered last week enjoying newfound depth upfront, both of Guzan’s backup goalkeepers (Alec Kann, and free agent pickup Mitch Hildebrandt) were still nursing injuries, leaving emergency keeper Matt Christensen, a callup from Atlanta United 2, in the unfortunate line of KC’s fire for over sixty minutes of play. Tata is confident that at least one of the remaining goalkeepers will be available for this meeting. The hope is whoever starts can simply stay healthy and on the pitch for 90-plus minutes.

Franco Escobar’s thoracic injury, suffered last week in Chicago, plus Chris McCann’s continued hamstring troubles leave both Atlanta players a scratch for today’s contest. In relief of Escobar, Sal Zizzo struggled as the match wore on, so expect either of Mikey Ambrose or Miles Robinson to fill in the Starting XI for the Five Stripes against the Lions. Atlanta’s Leandro Gonzalez Pirez made sparkling plays on the ball to keep the eventual 2-0 deficit as close as it was throughout.

The book is out on MLS goals leader Josef Martinez, whose should-be eighth goal was wiped away after a sketchy post-goal VAR review, effectively shifting the momentum of the midweek match. The referees, living and video-assisted, have their eyes glued to Josef in anticipation that he’ll be offsides whenever it is time to make a play for the ball. Easier said than done, but opponents figure that if they can keep Martinez from scoring on his first few opportunities, either due to stops or offsides calls, he’ll grow a tendency to tune out, much to their advantage.

Josef is at his most dangerous as a dual threat, drawing defenders trying to stop his strikes only to watch him set up the likes of Almiron, Julian Gressel or Tito Villalba. If Atlanta can get Martinez to consider laying back a bit and setting up assist opportunities, they can diversify their offensive attack, something that may be necessary if they intend to alleviate their overtaxed defense today at Orlando City.

Happy Mother’s Day! Let’s Go United!

~lw3

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Ay, is this thing on? For obvious reasons, I haven't had much time to ponder Sunday's nationally-televised fixture for Atlanta United, back at the Benz against the hard-charging New York Red Bulls (7 PM Eastern, FS1, 92.9 FM in ATL). Thankfully, the hometeam went down to ornery Orlando last week and showed no signs of a power outage, and they're up for a similar challenge by the New York team that's seeing Red.

Despite reaching the 2017 US Open Cup Final, earning a blowout road win in the 2017 MLS Playoffs' Knockout Round, and falling just short on away goals in the conference semis to eventual MLS Cup champion Toronto FC, New York hit the reset button.

Gone was star midfielder Sacha Kljestan, as you know, traded to Orlando City this past January for two youngsters, forward Carlos Rivas and defenseman Tommy Redding. Gone, one day before the 2018 MLS season began, was Felipe, via a trade with Vancouver for allocation money and defenseman Tim Parker.

Gone were a bunch of players whose options were declined, not the least of which was Sal Zizzo, who may find himself again playing key minutes as a sub for Atlanta, while defensemen Franco Escobar and Chris McCann remain on the shelf.

NYRB Coach Jesse Marsch found himself managing the league's youngest team, amazingly youthful when one considers how they all look to the esteemed 33-year-old forward Bradley Wright-Phillips (2x MLS Golden Boot winner; 6 goals and 5 assists in 2018, both T-4th in MLS) for scoring, and 34-year-old team captain and goalkeeper Luis Robles for saves.

Expectations were set low. But now, the Red Bulls (6-3-0 W-L-T) come into Atlanta looking to collect their fourth-consecutive victory. Two of their past three wins came on the road, at the LA Galaxy and in Colorado. Sandwiched between those games was a Hudson River Derby win, by a resounding 4-0 score, cooling off metro rival NYCFC. They have yet to lose a match by more than a single goal.

The Red Bulls have scored at least two goals in six of their past seven MLS matches. Aside from perhaps Robles, fatigue has yet to show, despite a MLS schedule interspersed with CONCACAF Champions League duties. Robles (knee) will be sitting out his first match since getting his first start with the club back in late 2012. One of the keepers he replaced that season, Ryan Meara, is still with the club and will start in his place.

Thanks largely to Robles, New York hasn't allowed more than two goals in the past five games. They're tied with NYCFC in the Eastern Conference standings with 2.0 PPG and, like Orlando last week, can make a move toward Atlanta (8-2-1), the team at the top of the table.

Even without Robles around, everything is signaling toward a tight affair on Sunday, which is why it will be grand for ATLUTD having its take-charge goalkeeper back under the net. One can expect more disciplined decision-making from Brad Guzan, in his first game back from the suspension he earned versus Sporting KC.

New York will rely on its midfielders, notably the Argentinian Kaku (MLS-high 7 assists), Frenchman Florian Valot, and Austrian Daniel Royer, to lead aggressive counters and set up point-blank strikes for BWP and Rivas. New York has 21 fewer shots than Tata Martino's crew, but they have managed to put seven more shots on-goal than Atlanta (MLS-high +12 goal differential, tied with New York).

Key for The Five Stripes is having its offensive stars and wingers playing an active defensive role, intercepting the young Red Bull defensemen and disrupting New York's counter plays before they can build momentum. When it comes to the Red Bulls offense, Atlanta doesn't want to give them wings.

 

Let's Go United!

~lw3

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It's been a minute!

With the Celtics out of the picture, many in the Beantown sports mahket now turn their attention to the New England Revolution. This evening, the Revs host Atlanta United (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports South and 92.9 FM in ATL), who are back in first on the MLS Table due to circumstance, and have had plenty of time to lick their wounds while preparing for yet another pressing team.

The pressing is directed by Brad Friedel, the longtime USMNT and international goalkeeper who took over as coach of New England in November. Getting his defenders and midfielders pressing and countering shortens the time span high-octane offenses like Atlanta get to build up a head of steam. That's helped alleviate first-time starting goalkeeper Matt Turner, who has held up well between the pipes (1.50 goals-against average) after getting surprisingly elevated by Friedel.

Once relieving opponents of the ball, the Revolution has been meticulous in setting the ball on opposing goalkeeper's doorsteps, a tangible turnaround from their dormant 2017 season. New England has put 6.1 shots per game on-goal (2nd-most in MLS East behind the NY Red Bulls, who thrashed Atlanta once the refs again got them unglued, in a 3-1 win at the Benz on May 20). Meanwhile, they've been whistled offsides just 1.2 times per game (3rd in MLS, just behind Sporting KC, who, well, see the Red Bulls game).

After a spiffy 3-1-1 start to the season, New England (5-4-3 W-L-T) is hoping for more consistency, particularly at Gillette Stadium. Prior to last weekend's 3-3 draw in Vancouver, the Revs' last home games included 1-0 losses to Dallas and Columbus, a 3-2 win over Toronto, and a 1-0 win over Sporting KC. They will want to craft the same offensive magic they've had on the road, where they have scored at least twice in their last four away games.

A Mexican club loanee, Ecuadorian forward Cristian Penilla and French free agent midfielder Wilfried Zahibo (not a Carmax promo) have stirred the drink well with their press-and-counter strategies, their team-high 4 assists enlivening longtime Revolution players Teal Bunbury (6 goals, T-7th with Atlanta's Miguel Almiron) and Diego Fagundez. It will help their cause if Fagundez (5 yellow cards, T-1st along with Atlanta's Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez, suspended for today's match due to yellow card accumulation) can cut down on the attention he draws from the referees.

It has been a similar referee issue for the whole Atlanta team (8-3-1, seeking its fifth straight road win), who lose focus, first, and then possession, and then leads and games, against aggressive pressing teams like KC and the Red Bulls. Darlington Nagbe, Julian Gressel and Ezequiel Barco will have crucial roles in minimizing ball-dribbling turnovers and keeping possessions firmly on Atlanta's attacking side of the pitch. That will keep the pressure off of keeper Brad Guzan and the Five Stripes defender unit, which will also be without Greg Garza (shoulder, plus yellow cards) for the foreseeable future. Look for one or both of Miles Robinson or Chris McCann (dependent upon what formation Coach Tata chooses) in the Starting XI in place of Garza and LGP.

Throwing in the upcoming US Open Cup matchup with the Charleston Battery into the mix, United (MLS-high 8 wins) faces a slate of five matches over the stretch of the next 15 calendar days, including a pair of road-game doozies (at NYCFC, at Columbus) on the tail end. These MLS matches will be an opportunity for Coach Tata Martino's club to either build up a buffer or slide back into the middle of the playoff pack. How well they hold up tonight, and on Saturday back home versus Philadelphia, will give a sense of which direction they're likely heading.

 

Let's Go United!

~lw3

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After squandering a great chance at picking up three points in New England, Atlanta United returns to The Benz to face Philadelphia Union FC (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL). While they hope to avoid a third-consecutive home loss, one man stands in their way. And he has literally been standing on his head.

Here are the goal tallies allowed by keeper Andre Blake in the past five games: 1, 0, 1, 0, 1. That binary code has the Union on a 3-1-1 stretch, breathing down the neck of New England and Orlando for a spot in the playoff-qualifying MLS East’s Top 6.

While Philly can rightfully be accused of stealing their fan nickname from the football folks down in Coral Gables (“The U”), it’s their basketball brethren who have been biting the soccer club’s style, the Sixers using the snake concept to promote their playoff push. It’s not as though the Union was putting it to much use. They’ve reached the playoffs just twice (2011, 2016) in their eight prior years of existence, and fans are still awaiting their first postseason victory. If he can stay healthy, Blake could be just the fellow to carry Philadelphia (5-5-3 W-L-T) to the long-promised land and keep fifth-year coach Jim Curtin off the hot seat.

The Jamaican-American is running neck-and-neck with the stonewalling Zack Steffen of Columbus (don’t remind me of last year’s Playoffs!) and KC’s Tim Melia to represent MLS at the All-Star Game. Among GKs who have faced 60+ shots, Blake’s 74.2 save percentage leads the pack. The next two goalies (NYCFC’s Atlanta native Sean Johnson and New England’s Matt Turner, both at 71.6%), each helped his squad pick up a point at Atlanta United’s expense.

Philadelphia has scored only 15 goals in 13 games, but nine of those scores had come during this recent five-game stretch. Defensively, key for Atlanta United (8-3-2; 1-2-1 and 7-8 goal differential in last four home games) will be keeping the ball away from the feet of longtime star forward CJ Sapong, on-loan designated player and Czech midfielder Boreck Dockal (6 assists, T-3rd in MLS), and Brazilian winger Ilsinho (tied with Dockal on team with 3 goals).

As was the case in recent defeats and ties, ATLUTD’s opponents seek to take better advantage of the lucky breaks they’re granted in the final third of the pitch. Atlanta defenders cannot afford to be cowed by whatever antics recent international-play-retiree Haris Medunjanin (12 assists last season) and fellow midfielder Alejandro Bedoya conduct on their club’s behalf. Bedoya’s score in last year’s meeting in Philadelphia should have won the match, if not for former Five Striper Tyrone Mears’ 90th-minute header that preserved a sorely-needed 2-2 draw for Atlanta.

Coach Tata will continue to be deliberate in deploying his heavy-hitter scorers, and each needs to focus harder on finishing the multiple chances they’re given to set up teammates and score when the moments present themselves.

Subbed late in New England, Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco could only watch from the sideline as their replacements made tactical errors to allow the Revolution back into the contest with just minutes to spare. They, along with Miggy Almiron, need to stay onside and finish plays when the many sound passes from Julian Gressel and Darlington Nagbe arrive. It will help if Coach Tata can turn to Tito Villalba (hyperextended knee), whose status remains questionable, to apply further pressure to Philly’s capable but youthful backline.

Peppering the goalkeeper with chances is nice, but Atlanta needs to get multiple shots on goal past Blake to salt this game away.

 

Let’s Go United!

~lw3

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Happy Open Cup Day! MLS teams have already started the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup (USOC), entering play in the Fourth-Round of knockout-play action.

With lower-tier sides already going after it, 20 MLS entrants share the 2018 Open Cup field in this round with 9 United Soccer League (USL) clubs,  one National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) team (Miami United FC, not the same as the former North American Soccer League team, "Miami FC", that stunningly knocked Atlanta out last year), one Premier Developmental League (PDL) club, and one "Local Qualifier".

Should Atlanta prevail to reach the USOC's "Round of 16", they could travel to South Florida yet again, if Miami United follows Miami FC's 2017 feat by knocking off our MLS rival Orlando City SC.

Atlanta United escaped with a 3-2 win over the USL Charleston Battery in 2017, and they'll try to pull off at least the same feat tonight, up at Kennesaw State's Fifth Third Bank Stadium. You'll recall the Battery was our developmental partner prior to the formal introduction of our MLS side, and they have a pair of United players currently on loan (forwards Gordon Wild and Patrick Okonkwo).

The Five Stripes will field a mixture of non-premier starters, reserves, and standouts from the ATLUTD 2 team (2-4-6 W-L-T in USL play) that also plays "up nawf", at the Gwinnett Stripers' Coolray Field.

The match is not on the Telly, but it is available online via livestream by going to ATLUTD.com/live . The Open Cup fever begins on the pitch at 7:30 PM Eastern.

 

Let's Go United!

~lw3

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...and, that next #USOpenCup match will be at... The Benz! Probably a few seats available... for now...

~lw3

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Will there be a changing of the guard at the top of the MLS table? Certainly if New York City FC has a say about it. They’ve got Atlanta United in their house for Saturday brunch (12:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL), and they’re hoping to use the pillbox confines of Yankee Stadium to their advantage in an early feast.

NYCFC (8-3-3) is undefeated and untied through six home matches, building up an 18-2 scoring advantage in The Bronx. With ATL native and 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Sean Johnson (acquired via allocation money from Atlanta United via Chicago back in December 2016) under the pipes, the Pigeons haven’t allowed more than a single goal in their past four matches, home or away.

Johnson (50 saves, 5th in MLS) has had strong defenders, notably Alexander Callens and Anton Tinnerholm, in front of him to help keep his workload light. Orlando SC had fewer shots on goal, two, than goals allowed in their 3-0 loss here last Saturday. Same deal for the prior visitors – three shots on goal for Colorado, four goals allowed in another clean sheet for Johnson. He only saved half of the shots sent his way back on April 15 at The Benz, but that tally involved just for on-goal shots for Atlanta United (9-3-2), who settled for a 2-2 home draw.

NYC coach Patrick Vieira may have an eye off the ball, with a job offer in France overseas pending, and his club has a bad taste in their mouths after dropping the US Open Cup on Wednesday, in their second-straight 4-0 defeat, to their metro rival at Red Bull Arena. Still, keeping possession on their own toes has allowed star forward David Villa (8 goals, t-4th in MLS) and NYCFC (29 team goals, 2nd in MLS to Atlanta’s 30, with 11 fewer shots on goal) to control games in their own yard.

Even at the wide-open field in Atlanta back in April, NYC controlled 54.9 percent of the possession, a more dominant percentage until the final ten minutes of the match. Atlanta coach Tata Martino will need to convey upon his scoring threats, including goals leader Josef Martinez (MLS-high 12 goals), the importance of staying onside to cut down on turnovers and disrupted momentum.

Meanwhile, Julian Gressel, Darlington Nagbe and the Five Stripes’ midfielders must control the dribbles a little longer, passing the ball forward only when setting up a planned and well-executed scoring chance. Ezequiel Barco logged a lot of minutes in Wednesday’s Open Cup win over Charleston, so look for him to split minutes with Tito Villalba, who is working to get back in the rotation after hyperextending a knee in training at the end of last month.

A less scattershot offensive attack than what ATLUTD displayed in their lackluster 2-1 home win versus shorthanded Philly, can scatter the shots from all sides of the pitch, and make NYCFC goalkeeper Johnson work just a little harder for his next win.

 

Let’s Go United!

~lw3

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A little extra motivation for NYCFC... Maybe an "au revoir" match for the Pigeons coach?

~lw3

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Tito's a scratch yet again. But how 'bout a third start this season for Ambrose? Hey, Mikey... he likes it!

~lw3

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Seems like there’s always a game with big implications every time Atlanta United turns a corner! They survived a rough-and-tumble match at NYCFC, although not without losing Miguel Almiron to injury. Now they’re visiting a Columbus Crew SC squad (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports South and 92.9 FM in ATL) that’s looking upbeat as we approach the World Cup break.

You’d be feeling awfully chipper, too, if your team had Zack Steffen in goal. Steffen just flew back from France, and his arms are very much not tired. His Zack-robatics this weekend helped a young Team USA (captained by Crew midfielder Wil Trapp) pull off a shocking draw with the World Cup-bound hosts in a friendly.

Least surprised of anybody will be the players and fans from Atlanta United, who watched in awe as Steffen strutted into The Benz and stymied Atlanta on penalty kicks in the knockout round of last year’s MLS Playoffs. He hasn’t skipped a beat in 2018, as his 74.4 save percentage is tied for second in MLS (minimum 30 shots faced) with Dallas’ Jimmy Maurer, and his seven clean sheets is tied with Sporting KC’s Tim Melia. Accordingly, Steffen’s team is the only one in the MLS East with fewer goals allowed (14) than games played (16).

It would be ideal to go into the World Cup break facing the host Crew (7-3-6 W-L-T) at full strength. Unfortunately, Miggy’s shoulder injury has him questionable to play today. Absent Almiron (MLS-high 73 shots), Atlanta (9-3-3, 4-1-2 on the road) struggled mightily to build up a head of steam offensively, and after a beauty of a connection between Julian Gressel and Josef Martinez for a goal, the team found itself clinging for dear life versus a NYC crew that peppered a game Brad Guzan (team-record 10 saves) for the rest of the second half plus extra time.

ATLUTD coach Tata Martino needs not rush Almiron back in the mix, as he has a rested Tito Villalba (inactive again vs. NYC) to plug into the rotation, and dribbling fiend Ezequiel Barco can slide into Miggy’s spot. What Coach Tata will need, against the effective striker Gyasi Zardes (10 goals, 2nd in MLS behind Martinez) and table-setting midfielder Federico Higuain (7 assists, t-3rd in MLS), is stellar work from his defensive unit to alleviate Guzan.

It is a group that is also banged up (Chris McCann will continue to be out with his hamstring injury) while also trying to avoid yellow card suspensions (Leandro Gonzalez Pirez leads MLS with 6). Out on the wing, Mikey Ambrose continues to demonstrate his worth aiding the backline with stops while setting up the transition.

For all that ails ATL, United has not drawn an L on the road in its past six matches. Columbus would love to snap that streak with a win that would not only draw the Crew even with the Five Stripes on the total-points table at the halfway mark of the season, but would lift spirits of fans still distracted by the possibility that 2018 is the Crew’s last stand in Central Ohio (news that Cincy is coming online soon isn’t helping much at all up there).

Steffen helped the Crew take some of the sting away when these clubs last met in the fall, and he hopes to do the same in front of the MAPFRE Stadium crowd tonight. In what should be a tight contest, what does Atlanta have up its sleeve to make Steffen… hurry?

 

Let’s Go United!

~lw3

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Starting XI: Feeling Peachy keen? That's because Miggy is gonna give it a go!

~lw3

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Hot Take: Tito was always the best Jackson.

 

 

Correction: I meant to say, the best Villalba.

~lw3

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Look who's packin' the Benz again!

Today's Round-of-16 US Open Cup action against the Chicago Fire (what a wild way they advanced, eh?) will be broadcast exclusively on ATLUTD.com/live

~lw3

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Hey, Atlanta did something right tonight!

Back to MLS action in about ten days!

~lw3

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Open Cup, Schmopen Cup! Atlanta United roll back into the Benz for some MLS action, versus the resurgent Portland Timbers in front of a national audience (4:30 PM Eastern, FOX, 92.9 FM in ATL).

The Timbers kicked off MLS play with an 0-3-2 (W-L-T) start, all their matches on the road as Providence Park was putting finishing touches on its stadium expansion. Then they got home, got back to sawing down logs and mowing down competition. They're undefeated since a loss in Orlando City (hey Lions, remember winning?) way back on April 8, going 6-0-2 to soar to a 6-3-4 record, now 4th in the MLS West point-per-game standings. And unlike Atlanta, they're still alive in the US Open Cup playoffs, topping San Jose and the LA Galaxy at home in recent weeks.

Benefiting Portland in that stretch, coach Gio Savarese's club has only had to leave their home forest twice, defeating subpar competition (at San Jose and Colorado, the latter almost a month ago). Only DC United has played fewer contests over the course of the season, allowing for longer rest stints. And they haven't traveled East since that April game in Orlando. So it a mystery how well the Timbers can get this show on the road, particularly against a Atlanta club who has toughed it out to remain first-place in MLS overall (10-3-3). Portland flies back cross-country to visit Seattle near the end of this week.

For the Five Stripes, Mikey Ambrose has put in valuable time at midfield with Chris McCann (hammy) still sidelined. He and former Timbers legend Darlington Nagbe will have their hands full keeping Atlanta in control of possessions and the ball off the toes of an array of effective Portland midfielders, most notably the Diegos: reigning league MVP Diego Valeri (team-high 6 goals) on offense, and Diego Chara supporting his backline.

Nagbe expects a rough-and-tumble reunion with Chara and his old teammates, particularly those he won the MLS Cup with in 2015. Most notably, Chara, for whom he holds mad respect. "In my opinion, he's one of the best center mids in the game and in our league so it'll be a great matchup," Nagbe told pregame reporters. "He's very feisty, a great ball winner — one of the best ball winners in the league. He might foul me a few times, but it's all love. He's my guy so we'll just get back up and keep playing."

Keeping the Timbers from piling up set-piece opportunities (66 corner kicks through 13 games, versus Atlanta's 65 through 16 matches) will work in Atlanta's favor, as will continuing to build up penalty chances. ATLUTD has enjoyed 8 penalty-kick golazos, twice as many as any MLS club.

Blazing-hot Portland won't come psychologically unglued like Philadelphia did during the last MLS match in this building, back on June 2. For Atlanta's scoring threats (perhaps including Tito Villalba or, alternatively, Julian Gressel, in support of Josef and Miggy), it's a matter of forward staying onside, and midfielders applying constant pressure on the Timber defenders and goalkeeper (and children's book author) Jeff Attinella (4 clean sheets in last 7 starts) by moving the ball laterally in search of cracks and mistakes worth exploiting. Here's to a storybook ending for Atlanta United today!

 

Let's Go United!

~lw3

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    • By lethalweapon3
      Might as well get a thread going!
      The inaugural Major League Soccer regular season for Atlanta United FC kicks off tomorrow evening, over here at sold-out Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, versus the New York Red Bulls (7:30 PM Eastern, FS1 nationally, 92.9 FM in ATL).
      In the NBA offseason, my sports dollar historically gets split up between the WNBA Dream and the Atlanta Silverbacks, a formerly professional soccer club playing a few levels down from the top-tier MLS. While I've watched a lot of local soccer, it's always been just for casual summertime fun, without really learning much more about the sport itself.
      I'm hoping my immersion will become more serious with the MLS in town. I've already read more about "Tifo"s and 4-2-3-1 formations and "tiki-taka" than I ever thought I'd care to know. I'm hoping a few vastly more knowledgeable Squawkers will chime in during the course of this season.
      Around many parts of town, you'll find there's a huge build-up of support for #ATLUTD; flags flying from homes and gardens, merchandise from the Atlantic Station team store flying off the shelves.
      Naturally, the excitement dies down once an expansion team starts losing LOTS of games. However, there are quite a few prognosticators comfortable with the notion that this outfit is not only going to compete well in its first year together, but even has a chance to make the MLS playoffs. It's not unprecedented; the Chicago Fire was the MLS Cup and the US Open Cup in its first year of operation back in 1998.
      Stuff to Know:
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      * The team's Training Ground and headquarters is slated to open next month, in Marietta.
      * Along with Atlanta United, Minnesota United will expand the MLS to 22 clubs this season. Atlanta will compete in the MLS Eastern Conference alongside the Red Bulls, NYC FC, Chicago, Columbus, D.C. United, Montreal, New England, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Toronto. Their regular season schedule runs through mid-October. [ https://www.atlutd.com/schedule ]
      * When not airing nationally, Fox Sports South/Fox Sports Southeast will carry many ATLUTD games. Spanish-language broadcasters Univision Deportes and Unimas will air a handful of games during the season as well. 92.9 FM is aiming to become the flagship radio station, but is running a 3-hour pregame show in the interim. [ http://www.dirtysouthsoccer.com/2017/2/21/14684738/atlanta-united-tv-schedule-2017-time-full ]
      * British-born, US-collegiate former All-American star Darren Eales serves as the team's President. He was previously an executive with the London-area side Tottenham Hotspur FC.
      * The "Technical Director" (GM) of the team is Carlos Bocanegra, a former MLS Rookie of the Year and two-time MLS Defender of the Year winner as a player. He was also a six-time captain of the USA Men's Soccer team.
      * Former Argentine midfielder Gerardo "Tata" Martino is the Head Coach. He briefly managed FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi's Argentinian national team, which reached the final of 2015 and 2016's Copa America tournaments before losing on penalty kicks.
      * Team captain is defender Michael Parkhurst, a former Wake Forest star who was the 2005 MLS Rookie of the Year and 2007 MLS Defender of the Year. Before getting traded, Parkhurst previously played for Columbus, where he was an All-Star back in 2014.
      * Starting at goalkeeper is Alec Kann, a Decatur product. I got to see him a couple years back when he was with the Charlotte Eagles in the USL. He broke into MLS with Chicago in 2013, and was acquired via the MLS Expansion Draft from Sporting Kansas City. 
      * MLS announced this week they will expand team rosters from 28 to 30, allowing teams to designate two spots for homegrown talents, like Locust Grove's 16-year-old Chris Goslin [pictured up top] who come up through the team's youth system.
      * Mercedes-Benz Stadium will host its first MLS event on July 30, with Atlanta United facing off with Orlando City SC. Its estimated capacity of 40,000 doubles that of most MLS clubs. In the meantime, fans are encouraged to park at Atlantic Station (off 17th Street) and catch a free gameday shuttle over to nearby Bobby Dodd (off 10th Street), which hosts the team's first 8 home games. [ http://atlanticstation.com/2017/02/16/atlanta-united-game-day-shuttle/ ]
      * No sport has fan clubs as dedicated and fervent as those in pro soccer, and ATLUTD has several. Most prominent is @curtmcgirt's Terminus Legion, who have a strong presence at soccer games all over the area. Other fan clubs include Resurgence, Faction, and my favorite name by far, Footie Mob. [ http://terminuslegion.com/ ] [ https://footiemob.club/ ]
      * The easiest way for me to catch up on the team's ongoing activities and news is through SB Nation's dedicated team site, Dirty South Soccer. [ http://www.dirtysouthsoccer.com/ ]
      Here's a taste of what some experts are saying about this club's prospects in its first season:
      http://the18.com/soccer-news/atlanta-united-most-exciting-team-mls-history-hector-villalba-miguel-almiron-josef-martinez-young-talent-players-roster
      http://americansoccernow.com/articles/toronto-is-tops-with-both-new-york-teams-in-the-mix
      http://www.foxsports.com/soccer/gallery/mls-eastern-conference-predictions-who-will-make-the-playoffs-030317
       
       
      ~lw3
    • By bird_dirt
      Just watching the MLS Cup and wondering if anyone has heard any news/rumors about the supposed MLS soccer team Blank is trying to get to Atlanta. Seems it is all but guaranteed as it can get without an official announcement.
      I heard the plan is for the team to share the new Falcons stadium. Anyone know anything else? Any names getting tossed out there? Will they basically absorb the Atlanta Silverbacks brand, or keep two separate pro soccer teams in the same town?
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    • By lethalweapon3
      http://deadspin.com/reports-atlanta-likely-to-get-an-mls-team-1307409821




      I love the Silverbacks (shameless plug: the NASL's Soccer Bowl will be here in November) and would miss the heck out of Silverbacks Park. But as long as Arthur Blank's behind this effort, I suspect this would turn into a nice draw at the new stadium by 2018.

      What would you prefer as a name for an Atlanta MLS team? I can't really get with the Sporting/FC/Real/United names. I like "Aliens," but for various reasons I know that would never go over well.

      ~lw3