In Vancouver’s 2-1 win last week at Houston – the same Dynamo team that walloped Atlanta United 4-0 – the Whitecaps started seven players who are at least 5-foot-11 and 10 who are least 5-9.
In Atlanta United’s 3-1 win against D.C. United last week, the Five Stripes started five players who are at least 5-11, and eight who are least 5-9.
Atlanta United, led in height by 6-4 Brad Guzan and a trio of 6-1 “giants,” will have a bit of a vertical deficit when it hosts 6-5 Kendall Waston, 6-3 Kei Kamara and the rest of Vancouver’s quasi-beach volleyball team Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“It’s crazy, we are all little guys,” said Atlanta United fullback Greg Garza, who is 5-8.
Vancouver’s height was used effectively in last season’s 3-1 win at BC Place. The Whitecaps scored two goals on corner kicks, both by Waston, because Garza said Atlanta United missed its marking assignments on both goals. And then the team added Kamara, one of the beat aerial players in MLS, in the offseason.
Atlanta United’s issues defending set pieces didn’t start and stop in Canada. The team gave up two goals on set pieces in the loss at Houston. Martino said the goals were the result of individual mistakes.
As you can imagine, Atlanta United has practiced defending set pieces this week. Manager Gerardo Martino wouldn’t say how much time they have dedicated to it, but he did say it has been more than the typical week.
Stopping Vancouver from scoring on set pieces starts with not giving them opportunities for free kicks, which means limiting corner kicks and free kicks.
That is easier written than done because Vancouver isn’t just a bunch of lumbering sasquatches from the Great White North. Brek Shea, who didn’t start for Vancouver but did score, is tall and fast, so fast that he surprised Atlanta United midfielder Kevin Kratz, who watched the game.
Speed can result in forcing fouls to stop counter-attacks and runs.
Should Vancouver win a free kick, preventing goals starts with Atlanta United being aggressive with its man marking.
Martino said Atlanta United’s players must mark tightly to reduce the space Vancouver’s players have to create momentum for headers.
And they must be brave.
“Have to go out there with the right mentality, with the right fight, with the right courage to go up there and win balls,” said Michael Parkhurst, who is 5-11.
Atlanta United’s players can mark as tightly as they want, but how can Garza or 5-9 Parkhurst stop Waston, Kamara or 6-2 Aaron Maund?
There are a few tactics.
First, Kratz, who is 5-8, and Nagbe, who is 5-9, said there are things they can do to try to keep their marks from jumping such as hands on backs, etc. Kratz said they have to be careful because with VAR everything can be seen.
“You have to pull everything out,” Nagbe joked.
When they jump to compete for headers, the said they must jump into their mark – shoulder or back to their chest or side -- to disrupt their timing.
“We know they are strong on the set pieces,” Gonzalez Pirez, who is 6-1, said. “We will have a good battle.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.