Atlanta United: Does possession matter?

Does possession equal points for Atlanta United?

It’s a complicated question because possession without creating chances means ... not much.

Several Atlanta United managers have attempted to play a possession-based style with varying degrees of success. Frank de Boer won two trophies and came within a saved penalty kick of leading Atlanta United to a second consecutive appearance in the MLS Cup with a system that focused on keeping the ball. Gabriel Heinze ... lasted 13 games. Gonzalo Pineda is starting to see results now that players are mostly healthy.

“Well, that’s a stat that I don’t pay too much attention to, the possession,” Pineda said last week. “I think a good possession can lead into having more than better chances than the opponent, which is the key and which is our objective. Yes, we want to create more chances and better chances on the opponent.”

Credit: Michael Rich

Credit: Michael Rich

The above chart was put together by Atlanta United supporter Michael Rich before the team played Philadelphia. The chart doesn’t include that 0-0 draw, which was dominated by the Five Stripes, who had almost 60% of the ball. The chart includes league and playoff games. It doesn’t include Champions League, U.S. Open Cup or other competitions.

As you can see, in its history Atlanta United has averaged 1.6 points per game, 1.63 goals per game and 1.25 goals allowed per game.

Now look at the breakdowns on possession. When having at least or more than 50% possession, Atlanta United averaged 1.5 points per game, 1.65 goals per game and 1.34 goals allowed per game. When having less than 50% possession, Atlanta United averages 1.9 points per game, 1.53 goals per game and 0.90 goal allowed per game.

Turning to this season, in which Atlanta United is averaging 1.25 points per game, the team leads MLS in possession at 57.7%, according to fbref.com.

When it has at least or more than 50% possession, it averages 1.1 points per game, 1.48 goals per game and 1.74 goals allowed per game. When it averages less than 50% possession, which has happened just four times so it’s a much smaller sample size, it averages 2.3 points per game, 1.5 goals per game and 0.75 goal allowed per game.

Those four games were a 3-1 win against Sporting KC, a 1-0 loss at Charlotte, a 2-1 win against Seattle and a 1-0 win at Orlando. Only one of those teams, Orlando, is currently above the playoff line in the Eastern or Western conferences. Of interest, two of the games were at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and two were on the road.

The team created eight chances against Sporting KC, 12 against Charlotte, 10 against Seattle and seven against Orlando. It averages 12.1 per game, according to fbref.

When you watch most of the goals scored by Atlanta United in those four games, there is a theme: vertical with its attacks and counterattacks.

It is what Pineda has said he wanted, including last week before the team played at Orlando.

“Like for us, we message every time try to break lines and then run in behind, runs in behind, runs in behind, that’s been the demands for every game I would say,” Pineda said.

It will be interesting to see how the team plays in its final two games and how this carries over into next season.

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1

July 17 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

July 24 L.A. Galaxy 2, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Atlanta United 0, Chicago 0

Aug. 6 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 1

Aug. 13 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 2

Aug. 17 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

Aug. 21 Atlanta United 2, Columbus 2

Aug. 28 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

Aug. 31 Philadelphia 4, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 4 Portland 2, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 10 Atlanta United 4, Toronto 2

Sept. 14 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 0

Sept. 17 Atlanta United 0 Philadelphia 0

Oct. 1 at New England, 1:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE