Stu Holden, Fox Soccer’s lead analyst, shared his insight on how he thinks Sunday’s MLS game between Atlanta United and Seattle will go down in a phone call Friday. Some answers have edited or paraphrased for clarity.
Despite not having Jordan Morris, Seattle (5-0-1) is the best team in MLS, unbeaten and leading the league in goals scored (13) and tied for second in goals allowed (2).
Atlanta United (2-1-2) is among the better teams in the East but has yet to post a signature win. Its offense is inconsistent, while its defense has posted five shutouts in nine games.
Fox’s coverage will begin at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
Q: What is Atlanta United doing well?
A: I think any time you have a new coach, the difficulty in trying to execute the ideas in a short frame of time is a challenge, especially with a limited preseason and COVID and everything it affected.
What they’ve done well in a short time is show on the field that they understand those ideas, that there’s a clear style of play that manager Gabriel Heinze has implemented quickly.
It’s consistent with what he’s done with his teams in the past. Long strings of possession, the way they match the intensity of the opponents. In a short time getting guys like (Ezequiel) Barco -- I can remember watching the team early in the season and seeing Barco running around a lot -- and (Marcelino) Moreno pressing high, he’s been able to motivate players as well, which is a good sign.
They’ve shown some good through adversity. They had the bad loss to Philadelphia in the Champions League and then finding a way in that last game (against Montreal) to get a late goal. It’s important for the team and Moreno, who looks short of confidence. Another loss or tie (from that game), heading into Seattle, it could go pretty poorly. It changes the conversation around this game.
Q: Having discussed the positives, what needs to improve?
A: It’s the final third.
I still feel in watching them play and saying, OK, these are the ideas Heinze is trying to execute, it’s still a lot like last year in the final third with a lack of ideas and a lack of execution.
I watched the games and try to think why. You have talented enough players.
Josef (Martinez) is still not himself, we all know that. He doesn’t have the confidence in his body to make that 5-yard sprint. Before, he would see the gap, make that run and the ball would come. That timing isn’t there. Having had four (ACL injuries), I understand that part. He has to trust himself and get more reps, more minutes on the field.
Even since (Miguel) Almiron, you’ve yet to find a guy who can play vertically and with as much quality as he did. Moreno hasn’t found his spot. Barco, I don’t see a guy that wants to be the guy.
Combine all those different elements.
Lot of crosses, but not a lot of quality crosses. While Atlanta United have a lot of the ball they aren’t being dangerous enough.
It won’t get any easier on Sunday against Seattle, which changed formation before the season and are now playing five at the back, and look even stronger.
Q: Seattle is doing many things very well, but what specifically is it doing well?
A: What they are doing well, as part of this formation, defensively, the three centerbacks are very solid. With two defensive midfielders, the are always defending with five.
Brad Smith is listed as a fullback, but playing as a wingback along with Alex Roldan are giving them width through the fullbacks. With the five at the back and freed from some defensive duties, Cristian Roldan in the middle is having an MVP type of season.
And they haven’t been playing much with (Nicolas) Lodeiro.
They can go and take the game and make it unpredictable for you.
When opponents lose the ball, Seattle can hit you quickly the other way. LAFC thought they played well in the first half of the last game, and then Seattle got them in the second half.
They execute so well in the final third. (Raul) Ruidiaz is one of the top strikers in the league. They have a lot of confidence. And at home they are a really tough team to get a point off of.
Q: What is key matchup in this game?
A: Cristian Roldan vs. Santiago Sosa.
I think so much of Atlanta’s responsibility falls on Sosa’s shoulders with the ball and without. Perhaps a little bit too much.
They are so dependent upon him to run around and put out fires. Sometimes he gets pulled out of position.
You want him to stay centrally and not charging around trying to do so much. Part of his growth as a player is learning when to go and when to stay.
Part of the challenge with Roldan is he is running anywhere and everywhere.
Q: How do you see the game unfolding?
A: Atlanta can play with Seattle. As a baseline, this isn’t a runaway game for Seattle.
Atlanta United is a coming in off a team-building win. Early, Seattle may say we need to assert our dominance and set the tempo.
I see Seattle taking this game, but the first 10-15 minutes might change my mind if Atlanta can come in and create opportunities.
If Atlanta can score the first one, it can win. If Seattle scores the first one, it’ll be 3-nil.
Seattle in wide areas are better than Atlanta.
If George Bello gets caught up the field, Alex Roldan will take advantage of that opportunity.
Probably 2-1 Seattle, but if Atlanta come out early and show they are up for the game, this is a good measuring stick and get a point, maybe they’ll have a chance.
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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 at Seattle, 4:30 p.m., Fox
May 29 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
June 20 vs. Philadelphia, 2 p.m., ESPN
June 23 at NYCFC (at Red Bull Arena), TBD, BSSO/BSSE
June 27 vs. New York Red Bulls, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 3 at Chicago, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 8 at Nashville, 8:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 17 vs. New England, 5 p.m., ESPN
July 21 at Cincinnati, 7 p.m., FS1
July 24 vs. Columbus, 3:30 p.m., ABC
July 30 at Orlando, 8 p.m., ESPN
Aug. 4 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 7 at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 15 vs. LAFC, 4 p.m. ESPN
Aug. 18 vs. Toronto, 7 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 21 at D.C. United, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 28 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision
Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1
Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Sept. 18 vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision
Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision
Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., FS1
Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE
Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution