The Portland Timbers host newcomers Atlanta United this Sunday in the expansion side’s first-ever trip to the Rose City. To get the low-down on Atlanta we turned to Haris Kruskic of our sister site, Dirty South Soccer.
After an explosive start to the season, Atlanta have fallen off their formerly breakneck pace, both in points and in goals; what is going on with the side and what might help them regain their form against the Timbers?
I think Atlanta fans are still trying to figure that out. I mean, two matches ago against D.C. United was more unfortunate than anything, with Atlanta out-shooting D.C. by a considerable margin but not taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them. Last week against NYCFC was just a mess all around. This shouldn't necessarily be an excuse, but I think the narrowness of Yankee Stadium's pitch was incredibly unsuitable for Atlanta's style of play.
So, with that being said, I think the wide pitch at Providence Park will certainly help us settle down and control possession more effectively, a staple of Tata Martino sides.
Atlanta have spent most of the early season on the road and have amassed a respectable 2-2-2 record away from home so far this season. How is the team -- and all of the new arrivals to MLS -- responding to so much travel? Is the travel wearing on United, or are these now seasoned road warriors?
It's really hard to explain Atlanta's early success on the road. One idea may be that with our average home attendance of 49,000+, we certainly won't be intimidated by many crowds in MLS simply because Atlanta has already seen the three largest crowds in the league this season, all at Bobby Dodd Stadium. That ability for the players to know that they likely won't be overwhelmed by what they see from opposing fanbases compared to what they've already seen is a psychological advantage, for sure.
As for how the new arrivals are adjusting, I really have no idea. I'm sure they're just happy our longest road trip of the season is already over.
Could Josef Martinez make his return against the Timbers? How has his absence impacted the team and how have Atlanta changed things up in his absence?
He's already been ruled out for the Portland match. That's bad news for Atlanta. He adds an incredible dynamic to their attack that backup striker Kenwyne Jones just can't provide. Martinez's pace and awareness allows him to split center backs apart at a moment's notice. Jones is a strong, tall striker who brings a different kind of style to Atlanta's attack, but not one that fits an up-tempo Martino system, in my opinion.
Atlanta have had to adjust for Martinez's absence by either putting Jones up top or utilizing Hector Villalba as a false 9. Personally, I prefer the latter because he provides the lightning quickness we grew accustomed to with Martinez, and has already shown he can play the position well by scoring two goals in as many matches as the #9.
Predicted XI: (4-3-3): Kann, Bloom, Pirez, Parkhurst, Mears, Carmona, Larentowicz, Asad, Almiron, Peterson, Villalba