Stopping Valentin Castellanos a top priority for Atlanta United

August 11, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson defends against New York City FC forward Valentin Castellanos in their soccer match on Sunday, August 11, 2019, in Atlanta.   Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Caption
August 11, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson defends against New York City FC forward Valentin Castellanos in their soccer match on Sunday, August 11, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Stopping NYCFC’s Valentin Castellanos, the MLS Golden Boot winner, will be a top priority for Atlanta United when the teams meet in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 21 at Yankee Stadium.

Castellanos scored a career-high 19 goals in 32 games to lead the league.

“He’s sharp, he’s mobile, he’s a smart soccer player,” Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “He can see the gaps and where to finish plays. He’s a very complete player, in my opinion.”

Castellanos is hard to stop because of his versatility. The Argentinian scored 14 goals with his right foot, four with his head and one with his left foot.

Perhaps none of his goals was as important as the header he scored in the season finale against Philadelphia. The goal earned NYCFC a draw. That draw prevented Atlanta United from passing NYCFC and finishing in fourth place, which would have resulted in the Five Stripes hosting a playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Instead, NYCFC finished fourth to get the home playoff game.

In scoring that goal, Castellanos moved away from Philadelphia centerback Jakob Glesnes, which created enough space for him to get a running start, leap higher than defender Olivier Mbaizo, and head the ball back across into the goal.

It was a finisher’s finish, and it secured the Golden Boot.

“The tears came down running through my face,” he was quoted as saying on 90min.com. “It was like I was telling you before about the hard work, my teammates are fundamental in this as well as the coaching staff, and everyone from the club. From the people who clean (the) training facility ... and the team’s chef, everyone is fundamental in this.”

That movement off the ball is one of many areas that NYCFC manager Ronny Deila said Castellanos has worked hard to improve this season.

“The way he has grown through the season has been unbelievable,” he told 90min.com. “His discipline from last year to now, he doesn’t make stupid free kicks in the same way, not as many yellow cards. He’s more positional when he plays and he works really hard.”

Atlanta United faced Castellanos and NYCFC twice this season. He took three shots, putting none on goal, in a 1-1 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Oct. 20. He took five shots, putting none on goal, but was credited with an assist in a 1-0 win at Red Bull Arena on June 23. Castellanos has failed to score in six games against Atlanta United.

“He’s a good individual player,” centerback George Campbell said. “And I think the main thing with players like that who get a lot of goals is their movement off the ball, not really necessarily their ability on the ball. I think that’s the main thing, especially in the box, just have an eye on him, knowing when he’s going in behind you and check into the ball. So really, it’s the movement part.”

Atlanta United has had success this season stopping the Eastern Conference’s three best scorers. In addition to shutting out Castellanos, the team held D.C. United’s Ola Kamara (19 goals) and New England’s Adam Buksa (16 goals) scoreless.

Atlanta United’s defense allowed 37 goals this season and posted 10 shutouts. It allowed one goals or less in eight of its final nine games.

“I feel like we have one of the best goalkeepers (Brad Guzan) in the in the league, we have one of the best defenders (Miles Robinson) in the league as well, many of them, and I’m very happy with the defensive shape,” Pineda said. “It’s been really hard for opponents to score many goals against us in the last few games. It’s gonna be a good game in many, many different ways. They have good attackers, they have very good players. We have similar styles and that’s going to be the challenge and what makes this game so beautiful.”

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Atlanta United’s playoff schedule

Nov. 21 at NYCFC, 3 p.m., ABC

Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 New England 1, Atlanta United 0

July 21 Atlanta United 1, Cincinnati 1

July 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Orlando 3, Atlanta United 2

Aug. 4 Atlanta United 2, Montreal 2

Aug. 7 Atlanta United 3, Columbus 2

Aug. 15 Atlanta United 1, LAFC 0

Aug. 18 Atlanta United 1, Toronto 0

Aug. 21 Atlanta United 2, D.C. United 1

Aug. 28 Nashville 2, Atlanta United 0

Sept. 10 Atlanta United 3, Orlando 0

Sept. 15 Atlanta United 4, Cincinnati 0

Sept. 18 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

Sept. 25 Philadelphia 1, Atlanta United 0

Sept. 29 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 0

Oct. 2 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

Oct. 16 Atlanta United 2, Toronto 0

Oct. 20 Atlanta United 1, NYCFC 1

Oct. 27 Atlanta United 2, Miami 1

Oct. 30 Atlanta United 1, Toronto1

Nov. 3 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

Nov. 7 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 1

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