Atlanta United (10-8-6) will host Dallas (9-7-10) on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the first soccer game in the $1.5 billion stadium.
To provide a few answers about the Five Stripes’ opponent, Peter Welpton answered five questions. Welpton is host of The KickAround (@theKickAround), a soccer show on The Ticket, and co-editor of “3rdDegree” (@3rdegreenet), the independent soccer blog covering the team and which partnered with the Dallas Morning News in 2012 to combine coverage.
Q: Dallas has gone from being the league's best team to struggling in the past few games. What has happened?
A: Several key things:
- Mauro Diaz returning from his Achilles injury. The team’s MLS Cup ambitions revolve around him but this is a major injury and his ability to stay 100 percent is yet to be proven
- The defensive strength that powered this team to first until July has evaporated, mostly because of…
- Gold Cup call-up Matt Hedges and Kelyn Acosta, including international switch of allegiance with Jesse Gonzalez, broke up the fantastic chemistry Oscar Pareja had built in the back line. All three returned from the Gold Cup with some seriously, unexplained funk in their respective games.
- Players signed in the offseason, specifically Cristian Colman, have failed to make this team better.
- Max Urruti can pull off those “special” plays only so often. Diaz has been gone so much, now team leans very heavily on Maxi.
Q: How has Lawrenceville's Walker Zimmerman played this season? Has he taken the expected step forward?
A: Absolutely. Ever since his awkward offseason prior to 2016, when he looked to see what interest he could find in Europe, Walker has accelerated his game tremendously, and when he and Hedges are in form - maybe the league’s best CB duo. Zimmerman suffered a knee injury just about the time Hedges and Acosta left for the Gold Cup and that added to the defensive woes of the summer. He appears to be healthy now, but still getting back to the form he had in the spring.
Q: What is the matchup to watch?
A: That will solely depend on if Diaz is in the game. Saturday night was his first appearance in a month’s time, and with the turf field in Atlanta, we’ll only know an hour before kick off if he starts. If he does, containing him will be key simply because he makes the front line of Roland Lamah, Urruti and Michael Barrios better.
Q: Any talk about being the first opponent in Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
A: I think most are generally fascinated about how the stadium translates to MLS. What Atlanta United had going on at Bobby Dodd looked pretty great. Between the size and the turf, how will it affect that? Most NFL stadiums, the exception being Seattle, are not great experiences. Obviously, all of the off field success, attendances and passion seen in Atlanta is of great interest in a MLS original market like Dallas – which is operated in the polar opposite of Atlanta United.
Q: Any talk of the team being unsettled after the recent transfer window?
A: There’s talk, but I personally think some media people are confusing dissension in the locker room for players wanting better deals. Anyone who witnessed Saturday night’s effort against the Red Bulls could tell you effort and heart is not lacking with the Huntsmen. While Dallas is famous for its conservative wage bill (ATL $8.9M / FCD $6.8) it has been the league’s best team (via points) for the last 2-1/2 seasons. It’s the first team in MLS to pull off 60-point back-to-back seasons. Also, 22 years without a MLS Cup.
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