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Atlanta United vs. Houston: Speed vs. speed

Michael Parkhurst begins describing Houston, Atlanta United’s next opponent, but it sounds as if he’s describing his own team:

  • A lot of good individual pieces up front featuring players who are new to the league;
  • A very quick attack that will punish mistakes at the back;
  • They get the ball and go;

When it’s pointed out that sounds familiar, he chuckles.

“There are a few teams amongst ourselves like that,” he said. “It can be deadly.”

Atlanta United will host Houston at 7 p.m. Saturday at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Deadly is a bit hyperbolic, but reasonably accurate because they are among the highest-scoring and fastest teams in the league. Houston is tied with Portland for the league lead with 21 goals. Atlanta United is in a three-way tie for third with 20 goals.

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It would seem this has the makings to be a high-scoring game.

Well, think again.

Houston is 0-4-0 on the road after being pummeled by Philadelphia 2-0 on Wednesday. The Union sat back, absorbed Houston’s pressure and made the Dynamo string passes together. They couldn’t do it. Though Houston enjoyed 58.6 percent of the possession, it was able to put only four shots on goal, which was also Philadelphia’s total.

Atlanta United’s previous game, a 1-1 draw at Portland, was expected to be a goal-fest because both teams are again among the leaders in goals scored. But the Five Stripes dominated the game with more than 70 percent of the possession time. The tactic limited Portland’s opportunities.

That ability to control the ball may be the biggest difference between the teams.

“We will try and do what we did in Portland, which is control the game,” Atlanta United centerhalf Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said. “We know that Houston is a really fast team. They have rally fast wingers on both sides.”

What Atlanta United must be careful of is how it reacts when it loses the ball.

Manager Gerardo Martino likes for his fullbacks to push high up the field, overlapping the midfielders and forwards.

Should Atlanta United lose the ball, those fullbacks will have to get back fast — against Houston’s fast wingers — for the team to keep a solid shape on defense and eliminate spaces that Houston’s Mauro Manotas, Erick Torres, Romell Quito and Alberth Elis may try to exploit. Martino said they will try to strike a balance with how far forward the two fullbacks will go forward with other players on the field helping in defense.

Fullback Mark Bloom, who got his second start of the season last week in place of the recuperating Greg Garza, said the key will be communication.

Pirez and Parkhurst will need to communicate with holding midfielders Jeff Larentowicz and Carlos Carmona, as well as fullback Tyrone Mears, to keep Houston from breaking with numerical advantages.

Should one of the fullbacks get caught up field, Larentowicz said he or Carmona will provide cover.

“They are a team that runs a lot,” Martino said. “You can see that they labor a lot in attack. You can see they are determined team in attack, especially the forward. We will have to see if that’s the case against us.”

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