Which formation works best for Atlanta United?

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

It sounds simple but to make the playoffs Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda is going to need to put the team’s best players in the best positions to play their best.

Explore3 Atlanta United players who must step up

Best, best, best, best, best.

The team was off last week for the FIFA break.

It is in ninth place with 27 points. It trails D.C. United for the seventh and final playoff spot by three points. I estimate the team is likely going to need to reach 45 points, which means earning at least 18 from its final 10 games. The team is averaging 1.23 points per game so it needs that average to go from Prius speed to Charger speed pretty darn soon.

To get that foot to press on the accelerator, Pineda has had almost two weeks to figure out what formation will work best ahead of Friday’s game against Orlando at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The team has tried several different formations this season. The 3-4-3, which has rarely worked under two different managers, the 5-3-2, which worked pretty well until injuries ravaged the midfield, and the 4-2-3-1, which was most recently in the final minutes of the previous game against Nashville, which ended with a 2-0 loss at home.

Here are the records by formation in all games this season, according to transfermarkt:

3-4-2-1: 5 games, 2-1-2

3-4-2: 1 game, 1-0-0

4-2-3-1: 3 games, 0-2-1

4-3-3: 10 games, 1-5-4

4-3-1-2: 1 game, 0-0-1

3-4-3: 2 games, 1-1-0

5-3-2: 4 games, 3-1-0

The key to the 5-3-2 is having two central midfielders who can cover a lot of ground, get the ball forward and protect the back three.

Santiago Sosa is ideal for one of those positions. But he’s injured and the team, which said it would know his status last week, has yet to release that information despite repeated queries. Franco Ibarra could be another guy but he’s missed so much time it’s difficult to tell if he will be impactful when he does return.

Nashville showed how to pull apart the middle of the 5-3-2 with the team’s existing personnel in the last game. Now, Pineda will learn from that and will make adjustments should it be the formation that he wants to use.

However, even if both are healthy are feeling in good form, and I know the record this season doesn’t show it yet, but I think the best formation for Atlanta United going forward is an aggressive 4-2-3-1 with this personnel:

Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan

Right fullback: Brooks Lennon

Centerback: Miles Robinson

Centerback: Anton Walkes

Left fullback: George Bello

Defensive midfielder: Sosa, Ibarra or Sejdic

Central midfielder: Sosa, Ibarra or Rossetto

Right wing: Luiz Araujo

Attacking midfielder: Marcelino Moreno

Left wing: Ezequiel Barco

Striker: Josef Martinez

I like this formation for a lot of reasons.

First, it should get Araujo into space on the wing. He’s already shown that he can beat many MLS defenders 1-on-1.

With Lennon’s tireless engine, he can get up and down that side to give Araujo either a choice when he has the ball or something for defenders to think about. Pineda said after the Nashville game that he needs to figure out how to give Araujo options.

While I don’t think Barco is at his best on the wing, Moreno is definitely at his best when playing centrally. There’s no coincidence that the team played its best when Moreno was playing as a true attacking midfielder, rather than as a central midfielder.

Bello and Lennon can either play underlapping runs, which Bello did very well when Heinze was the manager, or overlapping runs. Bello is better at the underlapping runs because of his dribbling skills and attacking mindset. His crossing is still being developed. Lennon is better at overlapping because of his crossing.

If the team can get late runners from Moreno or whoever plays defensive midfielder, it will give options for the players on the outside. That’s another important thing because too often the team hasn’t had enough targets in the 18-yard box.

Lastly, and this is most important, the team has play aggressively. Winning 4-3 is the same as 1-0. During regular season games, this team has always played its best when it attacks. Throw numbers forward. Robinson and Walkes have shown they are good partners. Having Robinson is like having two defenders, anyway. Bello and Lennon have the speed to get back if they get caught up field.

Credit: Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United

Credit: Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United

Should Sosa be healthy, and Pineda wants to continue with the 5-3-2/3-4-3, here is the personnel I think work best:

Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan

Right wingback: Brooks Lennon

Centerback: Miles Robinson

Centerback: Alan Franco

Centerback: Anton Walkes

Left wingback: George Bello

Central midfielder: Santiago Sosa

Attacking midfielder: Marcelino Moreno

Right wing: Luiz Araujo

Left wing: Ezequiel Barco

Striker: Josef Martinez

Which formation do you prefer and what personnel within? Please share by emailing me at droberson@ajc.com, or by sharing it on twitter.

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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1,

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 New England 1, Atlanta United 0

July 21 Atlanta United 1, Cincinnati 1

July 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Orlando 3, Atlanta United 2

Aug. 4 Atlanta United 2, Montreal 2

Aug. 7 Atlanta United 3, Columbus 2

Aug. 15 Atlanta United 1, LAFC 0

Aug. 18 Atlanta United 1, Toronto

Aug. 21 Atlanta United 2, D.C. United 1

Aug. 28 Nashville 2, Atlanta United 0

Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE