Atlanta United showed speed, skill, marketing showmanship and most important, a developing understanding of manager Gerardo Martino’s tactics in a 4-0 demolition of Chattanooga on Saturday in its preseason opener.
Goals by HectorVillalba and Yamil Asad in the first half, and Josef Martinez and Andrew Carleton in the second half were more than enough for the MLS expansion side to defeat the fourth-tier NPSL hosts at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga.
To add a little flair to the day, Atlanta United unveiled its secondary jersey at halftime. The players switched from the home jersey to the alternate at halftime.
Most of the play throughout the game was in Chattanooga’s half, evidence of what Martino wants to do with his pressing system. Still, he said the team missed some opportunities in the first half, and he said the play of those in the second half was very good.
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The next exhibition game should be much tougher, and provide a better glimpse of Atlanta United’s chemistry and tactics, because it will play Columbus of MLS on Feb. 18 in Charleston, S.C.
Here are five observations from the game:
First 11. Martino elected to use a 4-2-3-1 starting formation, with Decatur’s Alec Kann in goal, Tyrone Mears, Leandro Pirez, Michael Parkhurst and Greg Garza across the back, Jeff Larentowicz and Chris McCann as defensive midfielders, Villalba, Miguel Almiron and Asad as the attacking midfielders, and Kenwyne Jones the lone striker. Almiron was a question because of a knee injury.
Hector Villalba scored the first goal in Atlanta United’s history, putting away his own rebound in the ninth minute.
Almiron ran more than 40 yards with the ball before laying it off to Villalba, closing in on his left. Villalba’s first shot struck Chattanooga goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck in the chest, hit Villalba and rolled into the goal.
It was a lightning-quick counter-attack and showed the speed of Atlanta United’s midfield. The two who combined for the goal are Designated Players. The third, Martinez, didn’t start, but did come through.
Yamil Asad, another Argentinian on the roster, made the score 2-0 in the 36th minute with a right-footed shot taken from the left, just outside the penalty box, which curled into the top right corner. Jones provided the assist.
Second half. A mostly new group started the second half: Kyle Reynish in goal, Mikey Ambrose at left back, Anton Walkes and Miles Robinson at centerbacks, Mark Bloom at right back, Carlos Carmona and Kevin Kratz as the holding midfielders, Julian Gressel as attacking midfielder, Carleton and Jacob Peterson as wide midfielders, and Martinez, who came on in the first half, continuing as striker.
After good work down the right side throughout the second half by Carleton, Gressel and Bloom, the team was rewarded in the 68th minute when Carleton took a short corner to Gressel, who hit a pinpoint cross to Martinez, who hammered a header from point-blank range to give Atlanta United a 3-0 lead.
Carleton made the score 4-0 a minute later with a header from six yards out. He started the play by stealing the ball from a Chattanooga defender. He tried to pass it to Martinez, who was offside, but wasn’t flagged because he didn’t attempt to go for the ball. Kevin Kratz ran onto it and chipped a cross into the box, where Carleton eventually poked it into the goal.
Tactics. Martino said before the game that he wanted to see his players exhibit energy, trust and an understanding of tactics. While he seemed happy with with the energy, he said much work needs to be done with the tactics.
Unveiling of the away jersey. Not only did Atlanta United unveil jersey numbers on Saturday, it surprised everyone by unveiling its away jerseys before the second half. The players wore the red and block home jerseys for the first half, and the switched to the gray and red kits in the locker room at halftime.
Fan support. More than 12,400 attended the game, with more than two-thirds wearing Atlanta’s red and black, and some silver and red after the half.
Four of Atlanta United’s supporter’s groups planted their flags: Terminus Legion, Footie Mob, Faction and Resurgence.
Curtis Jenkins, who grew up in East Point and now lives in Virginia-Highland, estimated that of 125-130 members of Footie Mob, 30 were at the game.
“When I put on that jersey this morning, I got butterflies and I wasn’t even playing,” said Kevin Kinley, a Decatur resident who is a member of Faction. “I know every fan has that. That’s what symbolizes what we have right now.
“We are rookies. But we are coming with something no other MLS club has seen before. I have high expectations, but I don’t want to sell it. A great chance to make the playoffs.”