When Atlanta United lifted MLS Cup in 2018, it was expected the club would usher in a new era of dominance in MLS.
They were considered the new standard bearers of MLS and the future looked bright for the club. Fast forward two seasons and things haven’t gone according to plan.
Gabriel Heinze was brought in during the offseason and is a coach that has a similar philosophy to style of play to former Five Stripes manager Tata Martino. His first mandate is to shape a starting XI capable of challenging in MLS again. It is very early in the Heinze era, but we can make some observations ahead of Sunday’s clash with the Sounders.
Atlanta will try to dominate in the ball in their buildup play, with over 60-percent possession in their last two MLS matches. Santiago Sosa is the center of the team’s possession play, as the defensive midfielder drops between the center backs and dictates play with his excellent passing range. He leads the team with 362 pass attempts on the season, which is 72 more than João Paulo, Seattle’s leader in this category. If you dig deeper into the numbers, though, you’ll see that 241 of Sosa’s attempted passes are in Atlanta’s defensive half of the field, meaning he’s getting on the ball a lot but not in positions to hurt the opposition.
With Sosa dropping in, Atlanta’s outside backs have the freedom to push forward. Both Brooks Lennon and George Bello are capable creators from wide areas, allowing the wingers to pinch inside and put pressure on the opposition centrally.
Atlanta United's Attack:
The Five Stripes' offense is built around Josef Martinez.
You could quite easily make a case for the Venezuelan as the best striker in MLS, but there is no doubt he is still trying to find top form after a long-term injury. He could argue the issue is the lack of creativity in the team and he may have a point. Atlanta rank 20th in MLS for expected goals, with an xG of 6.3 and just 6 goals scored. Compare this with Seattle’s xG of 11 and 13 goals scored (Good for third in the league) and you can see the attacking issues for Atlanta.
Seattle Sounders’ Form:
The Sounders are coming off another impressive win over LAFC last weekend. The victory was similar Seattle’s opening weekend win over Minnesota, with the Rave Green upping the performance in the second half to secure three points. The midfield is still missing the tempo-setting capabilities of Nicolás Lodeiro, but Seattle’s ability to make opposition possession predictable with their strong defensive structure means they can control the game on both sides of the ball.
Nouhou and Alex Roldan continue to play at an incredibly high level, while Cristian Roldan’s energy and endeavor in midfield has been critical to Settle’s hot start to the season. It will be interesting to see if Alex Roldan and Brad Smith can force Bello and Lennon to focus on their defensive duties and limit their attacking breaks forward. If they can, the Sounders will be in good shape to pick up another big win.
Key to the Game
Santiago Sosa will try take control of this game early, so it will be interesting to see how the Sounders decide to deal with this, particularly if he drops deep. Brian Schmetzer could elect to allow his two forwards to deal with Sosa and deny him the ability to get on the ball, but I also expect Cristian Roldan to pick times to be aggressive and make life uncomfortable for Sosa. If Sosa is denied touches on the ball, the Atlanta buildup suffers and this could be the key to a Sounders win.