A good season for Atlanta United’s Moreno that could have been better

Atlanta United midfielder Marcelino Moreno #10 dribbles the ball during the match against Toronto FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday October 30, 2021. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta United)
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Atlanta United midfielder Marcelino Moreno #10 dribbles the ball during the match against Toronto FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday October 30, 2021. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta United)

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Marcelino Moreno was arguably Atlanta United’s best attacking player during this MLS season.

The Argentinian midfielder finished second in goals (nine) and assists (five) and led in shots (79), shots on goal (30) and key passes (63), which was 11th-most in the league.

Looking at some interesting stats from fbref.com posits an interesting snapshot at what might have been for Moreno and the team:

  • Expected assists: 6.5, 14th best in MLS.
  • Assists minus expected assists: minus 2.5, way, way down the list of leaders, which, to me, means that his teammates were not helping him by finishing chances.
  • Completed passes into 18-yard box: 45, league leader has 128.
  • Progressive passes toward opponent’s goal, traveling at least 10 yards: 133, leader has 277.
  • Successful dribbles: 55.4, 173rd in the league.
  • Dribbles attempted: 130, 4th most in league.

As you can see, Moreno perhaps dribbled, a lot of times unsuccessfully, a bit too much, didn’t get his teammates as involved as much as he could have and when he did, they didn’t convert chances.

It’s the season’s final 10 games, when Atlanta United’s offense noticeably began to struggle, that I want to focus on.

The visible slump coincided with Moreno’s fantastic run and assist to George Bello in the 3-2 win against D.C. United on Sept. 18 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Including that game, Atlanta United’s attack began to take on what I think was a “highlight attempt” approach rather than a team tactics approach, punctuated by the 2-0 loss to NYCFC in the playoffs.

A look at a few key stats:

  • Average dribble attempts pre DC: 16.7.
  • Average dribble attempts from DC on: 22.
  • Successful dribble attempts pre DC: 11.
  • Successful dribble attempts from DC on: 13.9.

That’s a 24 percent increase in attempts and a 21 percent increase in successful attempts.

And Moreno was as guilty as anyone of perhaps trying to replicate that amazing play from the D.C. United game:

  • Average dribble attempts pre DC: 4.2.
  • Average dribble attempts from DC on: 4.6.
  • Successful dribble attempts pre DC: 2.5.
  • Successful dribble attempts from DC on: 2.3.

The increase in dribble attempts was punctuated by him attempting a season-high 13, successful on six, against NYCFC.

A problem that can result from too much dribbling is it reduces passing, which can discourage teammates from making off-the-ball runs into space.

That wasn’t entirely true with Atlanta United, though.

  • Average pass attempts pre DC: 531.9.
  • Average pass attempts from DC on: 541.2.
  • Average pass completions pre DC: 451.5.
  • Average pass completions from DC on: 453.3.

And passes were still being made in the opponent’s defensive third:

  • Average passes in opponent third pre DC: 28.9.
  • Average passes in opponents third from DC on: 30.3.

All of this culminated though with the loss to NYCFC, in which, with Moreno as the example of over-dribbling, the team created one good chance while simultaneously attempting a season-high in dribbles attempted (37), its third-lowest mark in expected assists (0.3) and fourth-worst expected goals (0.4).

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