Before the game, we were able to check in with our sister site Dirty South Soccer and David McFarland to chat about Atlanta’s sluggish start to the season, how their new coach is settling in, and more. If you want to see our answers to his questions, you can find them here.
Q: What’s the early return on Heinze? How’s it going? From afar, he seems a bit... eccentric.
Patience was always going to be important this season. No one expected Heinze and Atlanta United to hit the ground running and immediately bounce back to pre-de Boer heights. Even so, the first ten games of the Argentine’s era have nonetheless been pretty disappointing. The Five Stripes are guilty of too many sluggish and snail-paced games to keep the excitement of a new coach alive.
Atlanta’s attack is especially anemic (we’ll go into that more later on) but the defense hasn’t been stellar either. Atlanta has blown a pair of 2-0 leads past the 80th minute and has the 4th-worst expected goals against in the East. On paper the backline looks much better than that but there’s a clear disconnect between what Heinze wants to see vs what actually happens on the pitch. That’s led to Atlanta being rooted in 10th place come July and far from challenging for any sort of trophy.
Miles Robinson and Santiago Sosa signed last winter and have been the only bright spots so far. Robinson’s defensive work has rescued the Five Stripes more times than I can count while Sosa’s ball-playing skills are vital in the midfield. One thing to keep an eye out for Saturday is how Chicago plans to nullify Sosa. He hasn’t been as effective in recent weeks with teams man-marking him and Atlanta lacks a connector between defense and midfield with Sosa on the periphery.
Q: How’s the offense doing? The 5 stripes have only scored 3 goals a season once, against the Fire. Why is the scoring not as potent as we thought it would be?
Not great! Even with Josef Martinez back, the attack hasn’t bounced back to anything near its old levels. Josef isn’t 100% either and only has two goals so far. Even if he were at his best, the Venezuelan isn’t receiving enough service to make a real impact. The biggest issue so far is a general inability to create chances from open play. The Five Stripes haven’t been able to conjure up anything from half-chances to point-blank looks on goal.
Atlanta frequently dominates possession but all too often it descends into sideways and backwards passes rather than taking risks and trying to penetrate the final third. The Five Stripes have the second-lowest expected goals in the East and have been shutout in its last two games. The dire attacking stats are partly due to subpar players, but Heinze’s tactics don’t seem to be sticking either. Both the team and coach are far from finished products, however, so there’s still hope Heinze can come good with the right personnel. But it’s looking more and more like that won’t happen this year.
How are Atlanta planning on taking on the Fire? How will they line up and how do you think the game is going to go?
The Five Stripes are a little shorthanded this weekend but the good news is that Josef Martinez is back from international duty, along with right-back Ronald Hernandez. Franco Ibarra and Jurgen Damm, however, picked up injuries last week and are out.
I see the Five Stripes lining up in a 4-3-3 with Brad Guzan, George Bello, Anton Walkes, Miles Robinson, and Brooks Lennon in the backline. Alan Franco will be the deepest point of the midfield three, flanked by Ezequiel Barco and Santiago Sosa. Marcelino Moreno and Erik Lopez will hold down the wings, while Josef is the focal point of the attack.
As for a prediction, I’ll go with a scrappy 1-1 draw with goals from the two strikers, Beric and Josef.