Nashville SC will take on a tall task in its first MLS game: Atlanta United has been a pace-setter in the league since joining it three years ago. What will the Five Stripes bring to Music City tomorrow? I asked Parker Cleveland of Dirty South Soccer to provide some insight.
For Club and Country: A couple of the major storylines this offseason included the departures of Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel. Who is Atlanta planning to plug into those spots to fill the voids?
Parker Cleveland: Those are big losses for Atlanta and I think the plan is for Brooks Lennon to play right wingback and *maybe* have Emerson Hyndman play as a no. 8. There is no replacement for Nagbe, he’s really unique in MLS as far as never losing the ball and seemingly always knowing what to do to find the playmakers. My thought is that the team is going to rely on quick ball movement in place of Nagbe.
FCAC: de Boer rotated between multiple 3-5-2 and 4-3-3-inspired formations last season. Is that expected to continue in 2020? What is the preferred tactical approach among those likely to be?
PC: I think it’ll be a variation of 3-4-3 with three CBs, wingbacks flanking center mids and then Pity, Josef, and Barco causing chaos. My thought is that on the road for a more cautious approach we’ll see Jeff Larentowicz next to Hyndman to start the year and then at home Eric Remedi will be in Larentowicz’s role.
FCAC: Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez have probably been seen nationally as disappointments so far. Is that an accurate perception from closer observation? They’ve also seemed to get a bit of hype in preseason as turning the corner, what are the signs that may point in that direction?
PC: Pity was bad last year, he’s acknowledged it. If you look at Atlanta with Barco in the lineup versus when he was out, the difference was stark. Atlanta was much better with him playing. What he was doing might not have showed up on the scoresheet but his impact was positive. The signs in the Concacaf Champions League have been good. Pity and Josef really clicked on Tuesday night and Pity admitted after the game that his mentality wasn’t where it needed to be last year. We’ll see if that’s the case for him in 2020.
FCAC: The Five Stripes seem to be building the roster a little more slowly not in terms of acquisitions, but when it comes to having players available with visa and injury situations to begin the year. Is this a good time for a team to be facing them?
PC: Maybe, it seems like this group has good chemistry and should feel pretty confident after the last two games. Nashville’s biggest advantage might be that they’re a total unknown in MLS. Atlanta might not know exactly what to expect and what they’ll need to adjust to since is Nashville’s first game.
FCAC: Similarly, Atlanta has already played two Concacaf Champions League games, including a mid-week contest just days before the MLS opener. Is there a fear that they’ll be fatigued? Or perhaps confidence that it’ll help them find form a little quicker?
Tuesday to Saturday should be enough time to recover and Atlanta played its best game with FdB’s preferred tactics and formation on Tuesday. I also think Pity is a player who needs to have his confidence high to perform and it should be after the win in CCL [Martinez scored two goals Tuesday evening – ed].
FCAC: Finally, how do you see the game playing out? Any predictions on a final score?
PC: It really depends. If Nashville want to sit back and absorb pressure and try to counter, it’ll play into Atlanta’s hands and probably see an easy win for the Five Stripes. On the other hand, if they press and don’t let Atlanta have time on the ball Nashville will have a good chance. What’ll be really tough for the home team is if they try to play out of the back and can’t find those passing lanes. If there are turnovers in midfield that Atlanta can turn into breaks on transition it’ll be a long day for Nashville. I think it will be a high energy game by both teams but see Atlanta pulling out a win 2-1.
I hope Nashville fans really savor this experience. The opener for Atlanta United in 2017 was a truly magical game and a singular event that will only happen once.
Thanks again to Parker for his knowledge on Atlanta United. Follow Dirty South Soccer for coverage of the Five Stripes.
Pity Martinez photo courtesy Atlanta United.