Soccer is even more back than it was before, with Nashville’s game against Atlanta United tomorrow evening just one of many around the league over the course of the week. To learn what’s gone down with the Five Stripes in the past almost-six months, I caught up with Josh Bouland, who writes about ATL UTD for MLS Multiplex and GSHM.
For Club and Country: Obviously the Orlando tournament… did not go as expected for the Five Stripes. What sort of changes are expected as Stephen Glass takes the reins from Frank de Boer?
Josh Bouland: So far Glass and the players have been very open about getting back to an attacking style. I believe Glass said he wants his players’ first thought to be ‘how can we score?’ Obviously the team had a more conservative, defense-oriented approach under Frank de Boer, and I think Glass’s first move is to get away from that. Glass mentioned that he viewed Pity Martinez’s game footage from his time at River Plate to better maximize his talent, so we may see a change in how Pity plays going forward. I also expect a formation change from de Boer’s 3-4-3 into a back 4 under Glass.
FCAC: The inability to meld Dutch sensibilities with a South American locker room seemed to be de Boer’s undoing. Can the locker room be reunited? (Or, honestly, was the ouster of de Boer the uniting factor it seemed to be from an outsider’s perspective, anyway)?
JB: I certainly think the locker room can be united under Glass, although I’m not sure if the divide is that large. Above all else, I think the players just needed a refresh, and they got that with de Boer’s firing. In any locker room where there’s a stale relationship between coach and players, the firing of said coach always leads to a short term boost in morale. I’ll be more interested to see if Glass can keep the players motivated as the season progresses.
FCAC: This team has a very different set of personnel since last Nashville met Atlanta. What has been the cover for losing Josef, and who are some of the new signings we might see Saturday night in Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
JB: To be completely honest, there is no cover for Josef Martinez. Losing him has been a big blow for Atlanta, but the first name that jumps out as a possible replacement is Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres. He’s had some success in MLS in the past, most recently with Houston in 2017. He’s not going to replace Josef’s production (no one can), but he can at least help the team score goals more so than Adam Jahn or JJ Williams. As for other new signings, I believe we could see Jurgen Damm make an appearance on the wing but I don’t expect him to start. I believe fans will have to wait to see new striker Erik Lopez, however.
FCAC: Despite the disappointing results, the one part of this team that has had pretty solid performances is the defense, with one goal allowed in each regular-season game (and even a couple of those coming outside the run of play – or after nearly an hour of valiant man-down play).
JB: Absolutely, I think it’s hard to argue that Frank de Boer’s Atlanta United wasn’t defensively astute. Will that continue under Glass? I’m not so sure, especially if the team’s primary objective is to attack and score. That probably leaves the defense more likely to concede, although I’ll bet the players will be excited to play in an attack oriented style even if it means conceding more goals.
FCAC: How does the fanbase feel about this franchise right now? Obviously the early years brought nearly-unprecedented success… but is the current stretch seen as growing pains, are fans worried about a longer-term decline, [comedy third option]?
JB: To me, it feels like the fanbase is all over the place as far as their feelings about the current changes. I think the majority of fans (and media) feel like de Boer’s firing was necessary. Because he only coached for a year and a half, fans are more likely to view this current period as growing pains. It was always going to be hard after Tata Martino left and for the most part fans understood that. There is also a significant part of the fanbase upset with the front office, which I believe is fair. Darren Eales and Carlos Bocanegra made some interesting personnel decisions in the last year and a half, specifically letting Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel go, so not all of the blame can be put on de Boer.
FCAC: Do you have any predictions for how the game will play out, possibly including a final score if you’re comfortable giving one?
JB: Based on the current run of form for both teams, I expect a 0-0 draw. Atlanta have struggled to score, while Nashville’s defense has looked particularly solid. It’s possible Atlanta score a few goals in this match if the team truly goes back to its entertaining, attacking identity. Nashville are probably feeling confident after their last two games (win, draw) against Dallas and could possibly steal a 1-0 victory in Atlanta. The variable of a new coach in Atlanta makes it hard to predict how Saturday’s game turns out.
Many thanks to Josh for filling us in on Atlanta United. Shoot him a follow on Twitter @Josh_Bouland to stay up to date on Atlanta.