It will be interesting to see if the team starts Saturday’s game at Chicago with the same positional grouping.
It may have been because of luck, or it may have been because of the other switches made when the team went with three centerbacks, but it did seem like Atlanta United’s offense finally started to click.
Was it because the fullbacks, George Bello and Brooks Lennon, became wingbacks and were pushed into higher positions up the field?
Was it because Santiago Sosa, normally the defensive midfielder/third centerback when the team plays with two traditional centerbacks, moved higher up the field, which allowed his offensive instincts to shine a bit more?
Was it because the players could relax knowing that even if the Red Bulls earned a counterattack, there were three players and goalkeeper Brad Guzan back on defense, which should be enough to thwart New York’s efforts?
Playing with three centerbacks also gives manager Gabriel Heinze a chance to use a weapon that Atlanta United has that very few other MLS teams do: Miles Robinson.
Robinson has become arguably the best centerback in MLS not only because he is the league’s best one-on-one defender, according to former players Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz, but he’s also become one of the better passers and attackers among those at his position. Watch this pass to Marcelino Moreno on Atlanta United’s first goal against Nashville. It’s one of many that Robinson has hit this season.
Take a look at Robinson’s defensive stats, provided by fbref.com:
Pressures: 11.38 per game, 85th percentile in MLS.
Tackles: 1.84 per game, 70th percentile in MLS.
Interceptions: 1.36, 70th percentile in MLS.
Blocks: 2.12, 80th percentile in MLS.
Aerials won: 2.96 per game, 82nd percentile in MLS.
And take a look at Robinson’s passing stats, provided by fbref.com:
Pass completion: 88 percent, 66th percentile in MLS compared to positional peers over the last 365 days.
Progressive passes: 4.33 per game, 92nd percentile in MLS.
Progressive carries: 3.97 per game, 94th percentile in MLS.
Dribbles completed: 0.40, 75th percentile in MLS.
I think it’s time for Heinze to consider using all of Robinson’s talents as a sort of old-school/new-school sweeper.
Robinson is good enough with the ball at his feet to go forward and become involved in the attack. He’s fast enough to get back should Atlanta United turn over the ball. He’s smart and quick enough to snuff out counters before they can start.
Letting Robinson work between the mid-channels would provide a passing outlet for the wingbacks and midfielder Sosa. He could become the aerial target for crosses that the team doesn’t have right now. He could provide numerical superiority in certain situations.
And, because the team is playing three centerbacks, there still would be at least two players and a goalkeeper back should a very quick counter occur.
You may say, wait, isn’t that what Sosa was supposed to be? Yes. But it’s not working as well as anyone hoped. Sosa isn’t as fast Robinson going forward. His defensive instincts are still developing.
Let Sosa move forward and take advantage of his talent.
Let Robinson become the new hybrid centerback/midfielder.
Something needs to change to truly spark Atlanta United’s offense.
Josef Martinez is returning, possibly for Saturday’s game, but that’s not a guarantee that his presence is going to turn around the fortunes of a team that has been shut out in its past two games and has scored only 11 goals in 10 games.
Giving Robinson a bigger range would provide a tactical headache for opponents. What midfielders in the league are big enough and fast enough to mark him in space or on set pieces? Who on the other team would be charged with marking Robinson should he start moving up the field? Would a striker have to drop back to pick him up? Would a midfielder have to do so? If so, who picks up the Atlanta United player who is now unmarked?
Robinson isn’t going to unlock opponents with his dribbling, but he can dribble and get up field very quickly. He has shown that several times this season. He can pass and move, which is something the team is sorely lacking.
From the perspective of the front office and for Robinson’s career, can you imagine how much his value would increase if he shows he’s more than a lockdown defender?