A few more thoughts from Atlanta United’s 4-0 victory against Philadelphia Wednesday in a friendly scrimmage at IMG Academy:
1. The formation was a 3-5-2, which I included in the story posted Tuesday afternoon. The starting lineup was also included in that story. Philadelphia is just starting its preseason, and there were quite a few dad-bods on the field. I should know. I’m the Venus de Milo of dad-bods (which isn’t a compliment to myself).
2. I tweeted (@DougRobersonAJC) this earlier today, but all four of Atlanta United’s wingbacks are very fast. Watching Brooks Lennon blow past Philadelphia’s midfielders and fullbacks was interesting. Jake Mulraney was often left in space on the left. The one time he needed to turn on the jets, he did a step over and torched his defender. George Bello and Edgar Castillo came on at different times in the second half. It was harder to tell their speed because by then Atlanta United had a 4-0 lead and neither team was revving the rpms. But we know that both players are fast.
3. Having said that, expect different play from the wingbacks this season than what you saw last year with Julian Gressel and Franco Escobar on the right, and Justin Meram and a host of others on the left. Gressel’s game was about pinpoint crosses, either from about 30 yards out or near the end line. Meram would take on defenders, and when he won it would often lead to that chipped pass hit between the penalty box and the 6-yard box toward the middle. I think it will be more similar to how Escobar played, except expect better crosses.
4. I think Lennon, Mulraney, Bello and Castillo will take on defenders more frequently with their speed and then we will see what happens next. The downside is if they don’t beat that defender, it could start a counter-attack. I’m going to be really curious to see how many “professional fouls” Atlanta United commits this season to stop those counter-attacks. It’s a tactic used well by Manchester City. If Pity Martinez, Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco are combining well, defenders are going to gravitate toward them, which will leave even more space on the flanks.
5. Fernando Meza started on the left side of the three centerbacks and played as Carlos Bocanegra described: very much like Michael Parkhurst. He was good with the ball at his feet. He won at least one aerial duel. He communicated well with those around him. As I tweeted yesterday, Mulraney played in front of him and Philadelphia had the ball on that side in the first half. Mulraney was trying to defend the 2-on-1, doing so until Meza arrived. Once Meza got into position, he told Mulraney to “go, go, go” at the man with the ball. Meza left the scrimmage early with nausea. Manager Frank de Boer said it was nothing serious.
6. Josef Martinez has added a few more types of flicked passes to his bag of tricks. As most of you know, he loves to come to the ball, hit it with the side of his foot one way while he spins the other and takes off down the field. Sometimes that pass is accurate. Sometimes it’s not. It was mostly accurate yesterday.
7. Barco was put on the ground at least five times yesterday. I think most of them were legitimate. He got back up each time. Barco played well yesterday. He may have held onto the ball a bit too long a few times, particularly when Mulraney was ready to take off into space toward a pass he hoped would be hit. I’m not sure Barco has adjusted to the speed on that side of the pitch. Mulraney’s voice isn’t deep, so when he calls for the ball, it has a very unique sound. I wonder if Atlanta United’s players could hear him. I could because he was on the side closest to where I was sitting.
8. Pity Martinez scored two goals and played well. He hustled back at least once on defense. He also tried a few interesting passes. Some worked, some didn’t. He did go to ground a couple of times looking for calls, which was interesting because it was a preseason scrimmage. He got two I believe and had at least one waived away.
9. Atlanta United will play Swedish side IF Elfsborg at 5 p.m. on Saturday. I believe Atlanta United is considering streaming it, but I don’t think anything has been finalized. You can always follow my coverage on twitter and will hopefully read my story that will post Saturday night. I think you will see a similar lineup to the one used against Philadelphia. The only exceptions may be Bello starting at wingback and Jeff Larentowicz at defensive midfielder. Most of Wednesday’s starters went about 70 minutes. I think they may do the same on Saturday.
11. Atlanta United will train at 4 p.m. today and then at 10 a.m. Friday. After that training, I’m scheduled to drive to Clearwater, Fla. where D.C. United is training. The team was gracious to set up interviews with Julian Gressel and Yamil Asad. Look for those stories, please. I don’t have a publication date in mind just yet.
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