Atlanta United’s opponents have an obvious and identifiable plan to frustrate the Five Stripes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Bunkering. Parking the MARTA bus. Playing cynically.
Seattle was the latest to come to Atlanta and proceed to metaphorically refuse to leave the basement of their host’s $1.5 billion home. The result was a 1-1 draw that probably hurt their chances of making the playoffs more than it hurt Atlanta United’s chances of winning the Supporters’ Shield.
Now, it’s up to manager Gerardo Martino to figure out how to consistently beat it.
“I’m calm with the production of the team today,” Martino said Sunday. “It’s difficult to play against a defense that sits so far back and just plays very defensively. It’s difficult to break that defense down. I thought we did it pretty well at times, especially in the second half. But it’s hard to do. The only thing I would say, and it’s not worrisome, but something we could work on is to have somebody other than Josef (Martinez) in and around the box who’s able to score goals for us. We need to try to have more guys in goal scoring positions.”
Seattle followed a blueprint drawn by Portland (1-1 draw). Others such as D.C. United and Orlando City have tried it unsuccessfully, but weren’t nearly as dogged in not wanting to play as the Sounders were.
“Their resolve was really strong,” Seattle manager Brian Schmetzer said. “They never quit, they never gave up and they came together as a group. Obviously, they were defending for their lives, but it’s great.”
The draw dropped Atlanta United to 2-3-2 in its last seven games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It will host D.C. United on Saturday. Atlanta United defeated D.C. United 3-1 on March 11 when it tried to bunker. Atlanta United beat it with goals from Miguel Almiron, Martinez and Hector Villalba.
Almiron and Villalba are two options that Martino could use tactically to get more players in or around the box to help Martinez to try to connect on crosses. Atlanta United pumped in 32 open-play crosses on Sunday. Often, Martinez was often left alone to try outjump several defenders to get to those crosses. He did successfully beat two defenders to hit a looping header into the opposite corner for Atlanta United’s only goal.
When Atlanta United crashed the goal with many players, it did sow chaos and create chances. Centerback Leandro Gonzalez Pirez hit the bar and Chris McCann put one over the bar deep in the second half.
When Martino added a second striker, Romario Williams, the team immediately created a scoring chance. Unless Martino switches back to a 5-3-2 formation, and he implied two weeks ago that is unlikely with midfielder Darlington Nagbe out with an injury, putting Williams, who is 5-foot-11, or Brandon Vazquez, who is 6-3, with Martinez to attack crosses is unlikely.
“I think it’s not our job to worry about how teams are going to play,” Martino said. “They are going to do what’s best for them tactically, so that they can get the best result for them. It’s our job to worry about us and figure out how we are going to solve that. We’ve played a good number of games like that already and we expect there will be more similar games. We know it’s something we will have to manage. We know in football that some teams are more attacking and some more defensive.”