Ah yes, high-scor... always win... big spending (that one is still true) Atlanta United.
The defending champs have a single goal through two matches and just spent 90 minutes pouring crosses into expansion side FC Cincinnati's eighteen yard box. New head coach Frank de Boer has yet to unlock the considerable talents of Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco up front and he can't quite put together enough structure to keep a clean sheet. As a result, the Five Stripes have a single point through two matches and are on the verge of being dumped out of Concacaf Champions League by Monterrey.
Against Cincinnati, Pity and Barco were both relatively quiet, with the latter only making four passes within Atlanta's final third. Pity was kept out of dangerous positions and did most of his damage off the left flank. This meant that there was no creative presence in the center to link up with lethal striker Josef Martinez. Pity's wide positioning and Barco's lack of defensive awareness meant Atlanta didn't control the match nearly as much as might be expected from a team with two-thirds of the possession.
Don't let this slow start fool you though -- in Pity, Josef, and Barco, Atlanta has a trio that could break out in a big way this year. Darlington Nagbe should continue to help move the ball through midfield with Eric Remedi playing a solid, roaming role at the base of the midfield. Keeping Pity out of the center slows the entire team down, so the Union need to focus on keeping last season's South American player of the year out of dangerous spots.
Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, and Miles Robinson form a talented defensive trio, but each has flaws then can be exploited. Parkhurt's speed is suspect, and Philly will look to attack him with Sergio Santos and Fafa Picault's jets. Gonzalez Pirez is uber-talented on the ball, but he has a bit of the Laurent Ciman wanderlust and this has led to a learning experience for Robinson. Playing at the center of the back three, the young center back has to read and respond to the movements of his teammates. When somebody gets too aggressive, Robinson will be left with too much ground to cover and his decision-making ability is far from perfect in such circumstances.
Coming off the best single season in the history of MLS strikers, Josef Martinez. is still getting off shots even as his team struggles to find its footing. The diminutive but ever-dangerous forward can change pace at the drop of a hat and has proved a lethal finisher with both feet and head. He'll drop off a defensive line or sit on the back shoulder of a defender. Last season he was nigh unstoppable at times but Philly will be hoping to keep him in check by cutting off his service.
Not revenge, but a point to prove
It wasn't Atlanta's fault that the Union received two odd red cards in quick succession when they traveled south last season. Still, the way the match played out left a bad taste in the Union's mouth and they will be ready to show they can travel back to the home of Outkast to prove they can take down the champs in their own house.
The Union and Atlanta United face off at 7 p.m.