Thanks to our “friends” over at Dirty South Soccer, the SBNation home for Atlanta United fans, for taking the time to answer a few questions before the big CONCACAF Champions League match between Atlanta United and Monterrey.
Syndey Hunte graciously answered my questions about the team and what fans of Monterrey and Liga MX need to look out for in tomorrow’s first leg at the Estadio BBVA Bancomer. I also answered some of their questions, so take a look over there.
Josef Martinez's goal celebration last night had a melancholic tone to it...— Sydney 17 ATL Supporters Group (@Sydney17SG) March 1, 2019
For those who don’t know, Martinez and Miggy Almiron used to do the Dragon Ball Z fusion goal celebration together and last night Josef did a "missing man" version.
He misses his teammate. pic.twitter.com/F2HeB55LQn
1. How is Atlanta dealing with the departure of Miguel Almiron?
Sydney Hunte: Atlanta needed to find a replacement for a player that placed on the MLS Best XI during both seasons of his time with the club, and it went to South American to pick up that continent’s reigning Player of the Year. Pity Martinez may not a carbon copy - he doesn’t have the same ability to cover ground defensively and open-field speed on the ball that Almiron did - but Atlanta paid handsomely to gain his services: a league-record $17 million, in fact. Martinez, a huge part of the River Plate team that won Copa Libertadores, has superb ball skills (probably better than Almiron) and has that innate ability to pick out his man in the attack. It’s still early to make a complete reading of what he can bring to the table for Atlanta United, but early signs have been OK; I still think that we haven’t seen the best of what Martinez is capable of and can’t to get a full view of it.
That said, it does seem that Atlanta is missing that attacking speed that it had in previous years under Tata Martino. Frank de Boer has opted to go with a 3-4-3 formation, which favors working the ball on the wings; that style of play relies less on a true attacking mid in the mold of Almiron that can really do his damage in the center of the park. To that end, we’ve seen Martinez on the left side of the attack while moving to a more central position when given the opportunity - whether that changes down the road remains to be seen as de Boer gets more of a feel of what the Argentinian is capable of.
2. Besides Josef Martinez, who else should Monterrey fans worry about?
SH: I’d keep a close watch on Ezequiel Barco and Julian Gressel. Barco had a disappointing season and fell short of the expectations placed on him last year; thus far in 2019, at least early on, you’re beginning to see more of the player that Atlanta paid $15 million for just a year ago. With him on the right of the attack and Gressel on the right wing, the two have combined well, especially on the second goal of Atlanta’s 4-0 win against Herediano last Thursday. If they can continue that style of play moving forward and can feed off each other, the team should be in strong position to win games once more. The issue with Barco is consistency and playing at a high level every match, as well as his decision making.
Tito Villalba is another player to watch. Villalba had a terrific season in 2017 (13 goals, 8 assists) but was beset by injury in 2018 and eventually saw his starting role turn into that of a substitute. He started for the first time for Atlanta this season against D.C. United and wasn’t able to make a huge impact on the match, but is definitely someone that can provide a spark up front for the team when called upon.
GOAL, @ATLUTD!— Last Word on Soccer (@LastWordSC) March 1, 2019
Who else? It's Josef Martinez with a second goal in this match, putting Atlanta up 4-3 on aggregate. Herediano would need one goal to at least tie the match and go to penalties. Atlanta United FC came in with an agenda today!#SCCL
3. The negative feelings after the loss at Herediano was only topped by the positive feelings of the win in the second leg of the CCL round of 16. Which Atlanta United team will show up at the Estadio BBVA Bacomer?
SH: It’s tough to say because a good portion of Atlanta’s core (Josef Martinez, Darlington Nagbe, Eric Remedi, Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez) started on Sunday and went the entire way in a match where it lost 2-0. For me, I probably would have preferred several more second choice players see the field to keep many of the aforementioned names fresh enough to go for a significant portion of time on Wednesday, but all in all, it seems the positive feelings from Thursday lasted until around the 60-minute mark of Sunday’s match. The good news is that Pity Martinez and Julian Gressel went around 30 minutes and Jeff Larentowicz played just under 15, so they could be likely to start on Wednesday.
All in all, I’d like to say the Atlanta team that showed up in Kennesaw on Thursday will be the one that shows up tomorrow, but I can’t be sure.
4. Predict the score.
SH: I think a 2-0 scoreline will be more than fair for Monterrey. Atlanta understand the weight of this match, though, and I think that they will be out to get that first goal and immediately put pressure on the hosts. However, I think an inspired crowd, coupled with some fatigue among Atlanta’s core players, will be the difference.