Atlanta United defender Brooks Lennon leaps to join the celebration of a goal by Gonzalo Martinez during the second half of a soccer match against Motagua FC in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Kennesaw, Ga. Atlanta United won 3-0. (John Amis, Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Photo: John Amis/AJC
Photo: John Amis/AJC

Atlanta United’s wingbacks praised by de Boer

Atlanta United’s second goal in its 3-0 win against Motagua on Tuesday likely wouldn’t have happened had Brooks Lennon not outjumped his opponent to win a header.

That header resulted in the ball going to Josef Martinez, who tapped it to Pity Martinez, who passed it back to Josef Martinez, who scored in the 61st minute of the Champions League Round of 16 game.

Manager Frank de Boer made sure to point out the effort in his postgame comments as part of a broader package of praise for both new wingbacks, Lennon and Jake Mulraney. 

“Jake and Brooks, they have the speed and the work ethic to play the position, the whole flank,” he said. “They did really well.”

The two players were making their first starts for the Five Stripes. Lennon, acquired in a trade with Real Salt Lake, wasn’t 100 percent, so he didn’t start, in last week’s opening leg at Motagua. Mulraney, acquired from Hearts in Scotland, wasn’t with the team because he was working to secure his visa. 

Motagua FC’s Kevin Lopez and Atlanta United defender Brooks Lennon, rear, battle for control of the ball during the first half of soccer in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Kennesaw, Ga. (John Amis, Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Photo: John Amis/AJC

Having the two players enabled de Boer to switch from the four-man back line he used in the opening to leg to a three-man back line Tuesday. That is the formation that Atlanta United used in most of its exhibition games.

Both players are very fast. In the first half, Pity Martinez played a pass into space through the left channel and behind Motagua’s defense. The Motagua defender appeared to have a better angle than Mulraney. He certainly had a shorter distance to cover. But Mulraney blew past him, ran onto the ball, and put in a good cross that was defended.

For the game, Lennon finished with three successful crosses and three unsuccessful crosses. He completed 90 percent of his passes. Mulraney finished with five unsuccessful crosses. He still completed 83.3 percent of his crosses.

Some of the lack of success can be explained by chemistry. Lennon’s and Mulraney’s teammates are still learning their tendencies, including how they hit crosses and the spots they try to target.

After Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead, and Motagua was forced to come out of its defensive shell and start applying pressure to the ball, Mulraney and Lennon found even more room down the flanks.

“When they throw numbers at you, they tend to create gaps in behind,” centerback Anton Walkes said. “With guys that quick, it’s going to be hard to defend.”

Their performances were about more than offense. Mulraney, who admits he is still learning the defensive aspects of the position, won six of his 12 duels. Lennon won five of 12, including two of five aerial duels. Both tied for the team lead with three tackles won.

Lennon’s and Mulraney’s touch maps from the game:

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