Who will start, what formation will Atlanta United use against NYCFC?

Who will start and what formation will be used when Atlanta United plays NYCFC today at Yankee Stadium in the first game of a two-game series in the MLS playoffs?

It’s an interesting exercise because there are a number of factors:

  • The size of the pitch, which is narrow, eliminating opportunities for crosses, and short, which encourages long balls because there are too many people to try to pass or dribble through.
  • Injuries and how many minutes those players can be used.
  • That it is a two-game series, which can affect the tactics of both teams, particularly when each has been so good at their respective homes this season.

Atlanta United can take a draw in this game and be in a good spot for next week’s game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It can even take a 1-0 loss, or one-goal deficit, and be OK. Anything more than that and things become problematic, especially when considering the team’s current form and lack of intensity in important games.

So, back to trying to answer my original question.

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Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino has rarely not used either a 4-2-3-1 or 3-5-2 formation. He has has sometimes used a 4-1-4-1, but I think that has happened just once.

So, I think Martino will line up with as many men behind the ball as possible to try choke the narrow passing lanes, win the second balls when long balls are hit by either team, and try to sneak a goal on a counter-attack, free kick or penalty.

So, I think Martino will use a 3-5-2, that may almost morph into a 3-3-3-1, or 3-4-2-1. Why this formation? I think Atlanta United may have learned a lesson about trying to play out of the back in its past two trips to New York. It didn’t work well. When Atlanta United switched tactics at NYCFC, it didn’t have anyone down the field to hit the ball to, so NYCFC would recover and start attacks anew.

Using a 3-3-3-1 will allow the team to play out of the back when it can (and not when it shouldn’t), or hit long balls to Josef Martinez, who can try to knock down those balls to the three players underneath him in the formation.

The 3-3-3-1 will also allow the team to stay narrow, giving it a better chance to intercept passes or recover loose balls.

It’s almost like trying to imagine the blocks of 3 moving up and down the field in unison, depending upon where the ball is. The banks of 3 would shift to the left and right to avoid creating gaps between the lines that extend all the way down the short pitch.

I would be really surprised to see the team use a 4-2-3-1.

So, who will start in this 3-5-2/3-3-3-1 formation?

Here we go:

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan

Centerback Franco Escobar

Centerback Michael Parkhurst

Centerback Leandro Gonzalez Pirezz

Midfielder Eric Remedi

Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz

Midfielder Greg Garza

Midfielder Julian Gressel

Midfielder Darlington Nagbe

Midfielder Hector Villalba

Striker Josef Martinez.

I think Almiron, coming off a strained hamstring, will be saved for as long as possible. If Atlanta United were to fall behind by at least two goals, I think he will be brought on.

What do you think?

What formation will Atlanta United use and what personnel? 

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