Who You’ll Watch
The Seattle Sounders will welcome one the the league’s newest expansion teams, Atlanta United FC, on Friday night. This will be the only meeting of the season between these two clubs (unless they meet in MLS Cup). Two weeks ago, on March 19, the Sounders picked up their first win over the New York Red Bulls and will look to make it two wins in a row. Atlanta United has won their last two games by a total score of 10-1, but six of those goals were against Minnesota United, and despite being up a man for almost the entire match against the Chicago Fire they struggled to put anything in until late.
Atlanta will be without their top goal scorer, Josef Martinez, who is sidelined for the next 4-6 weeks with a left quad strain. Seattle will be getting all five of their international players back, but it is not certain how many will see the field. Clint Dempsey, Roman Torres, and Joevin Jones all went 90’ in two games over the weekend, and Jordan Morris’ ankle/foot was bad enough he was sent home. Oniel Fisher is questionable after suffering a hamstring injury two weeks ago. Nicolas Lodeiro was a twice-unused sub, so at least there’s that.
Atlanta United 2017 Record: 2-1-0, 3rd in the East
Top Scorer: Martinez, 5
Top Assist Leaders: Yamil Asad and Miguel Almiron, 2
Notable Roster Changes:
In: All the players!
Out: Nobody yet.
What to Watch
Atlanta got off to a roaring start long before they ever took the field with their signing of Gerardo “Tata” Martino as head coach, both a big name and a big talent in the coaching world. Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons as well, has shown he’s clearly willing to spend money on the team, and technical director Carlos Bocanegra, of USMNT and Chivas RIP fame, has partnered with Martino to spend that money very wisely indeed.
Martino lines the team up in a fairly conventional 4-2-3-1 (you could probably talk me into calling it a 4-3-3 as well, but there’s a clear enough division between the midfield 2-3 lines that I think the former is more accurate). Both outside backs have gotten forward enough in their first three matches that it often looks like they’re running a back line of just two players. Atlanta has stayed in well-defined roles and responsibilities thus far, relying on spacing, a dizzying number of passes, and speed of ball movement to twist defenses trying to keep up into knots. So far this season they’ve done a solid job balancing their attacks between central and wing play, but in the end most of them have gone to Martinez, who leads the league with five goals through three matches.
A Good Man is Hard to Find - Seattle is definitely a deep team, but it’s getting close to the bottom of its depth chart at a couple positions. Unfortunately, those positions are across the back line and happening against an early contender for most potent attack in the league.
Left back, in particular, will be a place to focus this week. Jones may not be old, but even young legs can only go so hard for so long before fatigue catches up. He will likely need to play a more conservative match to keep his legs under him for yet another full 90; how this plays out will have significant fall-on effects to the team’s shape and the directions of the attack. If your memory is good, you’ll recall Red Bulls have a significant right-side lean to their attack, and Seattle probably ends up with something similar this week.
The Displaced Persons - Thankfully, Atlanta will also have some decisions to make, and they’re all attack-related. Almiron went 90’ against Ecuador (reportedly struggling with some sort of injury), and was pulled at half against Brasil; the aforementioned Martinez is out 4-6 weeks with a thigh injury; and potential Martinez replacement Kenwyne Jones captained Trinidad & Tobago for 84’and 66’ in their two matches. Meanwhile, Carlos Carmona travelled with Chile, and, while he only got garbage time minutes, that’s a lot of flying over a short period of time.
Almiron looks to be the real deal, and missing him would hurt Atlanta’s attack tremendously. He’s been fantastic pulling the strings for them; he’s certainly shown why Seattle had a discovery claim on him. It seems highly unlikely he starts, and in his place it seems most likely that 2017 draftee Julian Gressel, who has experience in the middle from his time at Providence, will move up from the defensive mid line. Meanwhile, either Brandon Vazquez, only 19 years old, or Yamil Asad, a key component on the left wing, will take over the lone forward position. It seems unlikely that these shifted players will match their originals’ production, but if Atlanta is to have any chance against Seattle they’ll need them to step up.
The King of the Wings - The two teams play similar structures, but, with the mixture of injuries and exhaustion, the nuances that normally would set the sides apart are dampened. Atlanta plays with a lot of width, using the wings to spread the field and create space; Greg Garza often ends up overlapping on the inside from his LB spot. They also like to use through balls to flying outside midfielders for chance generation, which has been heavily predicated on Almiron’s abilities in the middle; will his replacement be able to facilitate wing play and help hold Seattle’s attack at bay?
The combination of Garza and Asad strutting their stuff on the left side has been a major threat for Atlanta’s attack, but the efforts of Seattle’s right side have also resulted in a number of threatening chances - so who pins who back? The likely combination of Shipp and Svensson will absolutely not run down the speedy Atlanta players, but they can more than hold their own on positioning and passing, and certainly have the skill to attack smartly so that Garza must stay back to help his centerbacks. Winning the clash on this side will be vital to limiting Atlanta’s OBs’ contributions to the attack, and talismanic for the outcome.
Seattle: Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Tony Alfaro, Chad Marshall, Gustav Svensson; Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan; Alvaro Fernandez, Nicolas Lodeiro, Harry Shipp; Jordan Morris
Atlanta United: Alec Kann; Garza, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst, Tyrone Mears; Jeff Larentowicz, Carmona; Asad, Gressel, Villalba; Vazquez
How to Watch
Date/Time: Friday, March 31, at 7:00 pm
Venue: CenturyLink Field
Television: FOX SPORTS 1
Radio: KIRO 97.3 (English), 1360 El Rey (Spanish)