The coaching staff told him to snap out of it.
“If you are going to play that way, we have guys that can do that,” Meram said in relating the conversation. “You need to express yourself. Once they gave me that green light, I started to play like I know how to play.
“I’ve been a winger my whole career so taking guys on is something I strive at to get in those moments. To be in that position where (Ezequiel) Barco, Pity (Martinez), Josef (Martinez) are attracting players they get to me play through when I’m running at guys with pace, it’s going to be difficult to stop me. I’m enjoying that.”
Atlanta United was using a 4-4-1-1 formation before the switch. The move to the 3-5-2, or 3-4-2-1, happened six games ago.
Meram said when he was told that he was going to play as a wingback, with no true fullback behind him to support him defensively, he reached out to past coaches and players for advice.
The best piece of advice he said he received almost seems counter-intuitive when learning about defense. He was told to keep attacking.
The more he attacks, the deeper it forces the opposing player on his side to drop. Meram referenced playing against Carlos Vela in the 4-3 loss at LAFC. Meram came on as a second half sub on the left and was told to get up the field. Vela was forced to drop back to defend, which took away his ability to wait on long balls and run at defenders one-on-one, according to Meram.
“With me doing that, now their wingback or outside back is wary of attacking because I have that threat of going forward,” he said.
Atlanta United defender Julian Gressel (24) moves the ball past New York Red Bulls defender Amro Tarek (3) during the first half in a MLS game on Sunday, July 7, 2019, in Atlanta. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL
Credit: Branden Camp
Credit: Branden Camp
Gressel agreed that attacking more has helped.
“We’re not talking nearly as much about defending anymore,” he said. “We’re talking about being on the front foot and going out to attack teams and creating turnovers, and ultimately that leads to us having the ball more.”
Since the switch to the 3-5-2, the two wingbacks have combined to create 33 key passes in league games, according to whoscored.com. A key pass is one that creates an unfinished goal-scoring opportunity.
NYCFC manager Dome Torrent singled out Gressel’s passes on Sunday.
“They could’ve scored three goals in that way,” Torrent said. “I said to (Ronald) Matarrita, ‘You have to be truly close to him,’ because we practice that.”
Another factor that is helping Atlanta United’s wingbacks is the play of the centerbacks, particularly Miles Robinson.
Typically deployed in the center of the three-man backline, Robinson’s speed and strength in one-on-one situations has given the wingbacks the confidence to know that if they can’t get back, the defense will still likely snuff out the counterattack.
“You don’t even have to worry sometimes,” Meram said. “You know nobody is going to get around him. to have that security now, with me playing wingback, helps a lot of us out.
“With a guy like him he does more than just win the duels. He essentially helps us create chances just with his presence in the back.”
August 11, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United midfielder Justin Meram gets off a shot between New York City FC defenders in front of their goal in their soccer match on Sunday, August 11, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Comptonemail@example.com