Finally, we’re back into a normal routine this week with Atlanta United preparing for a match with the New England Revolution tomorrow night. The stop-start nature of the 2019 season has been awkward so far, but that’s over for about 6 weeks now. 11 matches sit between the 5 Stripes and their next extended break starting on June 2.
It’s not a must-win match because of the sheer number of matches that remain. Also, the team is currently six points out of a playoff spot with two matches in hand. Things are not nearly as dire as they might feel right now. However, that feeling is why this match is incredibly important. With back-to-back home matches waiting after this one, getting some positive momentum is key.
With a team that needs to rebuild its confidence, getting off to a fast start is vital. Atlanta United feels like a team that could see an early goal open the floodgates. Look back at the second leg of the Herediano series in the Concacaf Champions League, an early goal helped produce a good night on the scoreboard. An early goal on the road can take the crowd out of the match and suck the life out of the opponent. The Revolution are a team that feed on energy, get an early goal to sap their strength.
That energy New England brings to the match defines their style of play. Atlanta United cannot let it define Saturday night’s match. After a 2-0 loss at home to Cincinnati on March 24, manager Brad Friedel said that there were players who let the team down with their effort in the second half. Sure enough, he made six changes to the starting lineup for the next match against Minnesota. The changes worked, New England won 2-1. The Revs went to Columbus last week and controlled the match with their workrate and their pressure, but the Crew found a goal from a set piece to win 1-0. New England consistently made the match disjointed, Columbus struggled to connect passes and create chances.
Two players stand out in my mind that need big performances in the eye of New England’s stormy pressure. Eric Remedi will be very important in winning the second ball consistently Saturday night. The Revolution have little interest in building up sustained attacks, they play vertically as fast as possible. The 50-50 battle that it creates on winning the aerial battle is one part of the equation, but New England thrives on picking up that second ball and starting attacks in the opponent’s defensive third of the field. Remedi has to regain possession for Atlanta. When the 5 Stripes get forward, Ezequiel Barco is a player who excels at setting the pace of the match. He has to know when to speed up the play to take advantage of gaps in New England’s defense, and he also has to know when to slow it down to recover from what can become a frenetic pace.
Last week, LAFC put the flag down for the Western Conference as the dominant one in MLS this season with a demolition job at Audi Field. DC United were overrun in the first half on the way to a 4-0 loss. This time, it’s the undefeated Eastern Conference side heading west as Toronto visits the Seattle Sounders. The Sounders were scheduled to play on Wednesday in Colorado, but the same storm that forced the Braves game to be postponed against the Rockies forced the cancellation of the Rapids match. The head-to-head battle between Toronto’s new #10 Alejandro Pozuelo and Seattle’s talisman Nicolás Lodeiro will be one of the best in the league this season.
The Loons nearly pulled off the coup of have Oasis singer Liam Gallagher on hand to lead the Dark Clouds and the rest of the Minnesota supporters in a rousing sing-a-long of “Wonderwall”, but the lack of Liam won’t detract from a huge day in the Twin Cities. The results in their first two years were poor, but manager Adrian Heath consistently said it would take them three years to bring things together. That coincides with opening their own home Allianz Field. The Loons have been good on the road this season, winning three of their first five matches including last week’s win at Red Bull Arena. NYCFC comes to town struggling to score goals and with some big injury questions. Alexandru Mitrita has missed training this week as he tries to recover from a rib injury and new signing Héber is not ready to play 90 minutes yet.
Monterrey rolled through Sporting Kansas City in the Concacaf Champions League semifinals, winning 10-2 on aggregate including a 5-2 win last night at Children’s Mercy Park. The don’t have long to shake off that disappointment as they’re back in action Sunday night with the Red Bulls coming to town. Peter Vermes will have to rotate his squad a bit as last night’s lineup was mostly a first-choice one. Chris Armas is caught in-between maintaining the pressing mentality that has defined the Red Bulls for years and adding new elements that can bring a MLS Cup trophy to New Jersey. Three straight losses have sparked all sorts of questions for the defending Supporters’ Shield winners.
It took some maneuvering to get it over the line, but the LA Galaxy have added to their backline in this current transfer window. Costa Rican international Giancarlo Gonzalez was acquired from Serie A side Bologna. In order to do so, the Galaxy had to give up $400,000 in Targeted Allocation Money to Orlando City and next year’s first round pick in the MLS SuperDraft to Toronto FC to move up in the allocation order. Gonzalez was subject to the allocation order as a player who was sold for more than $500,000 and now returning to the league. He spent the first half of 2014 with Columbus and was sold for a big profit after leading Costa Rica to the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time.
The USMNT knows what the group stage of this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup holds for them after the announcement of the groups this week in Los Angeles. The tournament starts in Minnesota as the U.S. hosts tournament newcomers Guyana (who will likely include Acworth’s Warren Creavalle, currently of the Philadelphia Union) on June 18. The group moves to Cleveland on June 22 as the U.S. looks for revenge against Trinidad and Tobago, the squad that knocked them out of the last World Cup. The group concludes in Kansas City as perennial Gold Cup opponent Panama provides a tough challenge.
Kicking off its seventh season tomorrow, the National Women’s Soccer League has outlived both of the previous women’s professional soccer leagues if they combined their lifespans. That accomplishment cannot be overlooked. With the Women’s World Cup this summer, it will be an interesting campaign for the NWSL. Can they capitalize on the momentum for women’s soccer that always occurs during a World Cup? The other big question going into the season is can the North Carolina Courage repeat their incredible 2018. The Courage won the league’s regular season, won the NWSL Championship, and even won the International Champions Cup’s inaugural women’s tournament to complete a historic treble. They will miss quite a few players during the World Cup this summer and manager Paul Riley will be forced to lean on rookies and reserves to replicate last year’s success.
Atlanta’s under-17 team will be headed to Frisco, Texas to participate in the 2019 Generation adidas Cup. Many of the matches will be available to watch on Twitch. Tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m., Atlanta faces Ulsan Hyundai FC of Japan. Two MLS opponents await on Sunday, 10:00 a.m. against rivals Orlando and 5:00 p.m. versus Houston. On Tuesday, the U17’s play against FC Midtylland of Denmark and they close out the week on Wednesday against Portland Timbers.