Atlanta United hosts Toronto FC. LAFC hosts Seattle. A LAFC vs ATLUTD feels like the MLS Cup final we all deserve, right?
Will it happen? Oddsmakers favor it.
MLS Conference Finals match lines
|LAFC -225||Draw +380||Seattle +500|
|Atlanta United -143||Draw +330||Toronto +310|
Where to bet MLS in the US
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Who: Atlanta United vs Philadelphia Union
When: Thursday, October 24th @ 8:00pm ET
Line: Atlanta -152 | Draw +310 | Philadelphia +350
After the first round of the MLS Cup postseason, it’s hard to be very confident in either Atlanta United or the Philadelphia Union. Both teams faced a scare; Atlanta only narrowly escaped extra time at home against feisty underdog New England Revolution, while Philly had to come back from 2-0 down against the Red Bulls to win 4-3 in extra time.
Still, Thursday’s match between the two Eastern Conference elites will be fascinating. Atlanta, as the defending champions with the heaviest money invested in winning now, face the most pressure. The young Union will play what might be the biggest game in club history.
Let’s preview the match.
Atlanta United vs Philadelphia Union preview
— To get right to the point, the best bet here is Atlanta. They have more outright talent, more know-how in crucial games, and significant home-field advantage. The win over the Revs wasn’t super convincing, but this post-Miguel Almiron version of the Five Stripes isn’t built to bulldoze teams. Pity Martinez didn’t even get off the bench against New England. Josef Martinez, the second-best player in MLS, is the elite attacker carrying them.
Atlanta controlled 55 percent of possession against the Revs, but you can bet that figure will go down some against Philly. The best approach for Frank de Boer’s side will be to absorb some pressure and try to attack into space, minimizing whatever press the Union send their way. In the past, Atlanta have struggled against pressing teams. Philly have had success holding a high line.
— I’d assume that Atlanta will start in the 3-6-1-ish formation they like to play, but that’s less of a guarantee after they had success by switching to a four-at-the-back and subbing on Hector Villalba in the second half against the Revs. Franco Escobar, who usually plays as a mobile member of the back-three, switched to full back and promptly scored a 70th-minute winner on the overlap.
Most likely, they’ll start with the three-at-the-back and then use Villalba as a super-sub in the second-half. They look most comfortable in that 3-6-1, though costly injuries at center back could change that calculus.
— Philly went with the 4-4-2 diamond against the Red Bulls, and Jim Curtain might go that route again for the midfield solidity. Without Kacper Przybylko, their top goal-scorer and striker, they have to find ways to put the ball in the net. They managed four against the Red Bulls, thanks in part to set pieces. They may need a repeat performance.
If Andrew Wooten and Sergio Santos play up top again, Curtain will know he has three positive substitutes he can bring off the bench: Fafa Picault, Marco Fabian, and super-sub extraordinaire Ilsinho. All three came on against the Red Bulls and played well.
— Despite the loss of Miles Robinson to a hamstring injury, Atlanta saw little negative impacts on defense against New England. Michael Parkhurst filled in admirably. But Parkhurst’s shoulder injury rules him out, possibly forcing Atlanta to start Florentin Pogba alongside Escobar and Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez. Philly could capitalize on any resulting weakness there.
— Most concerning for the Union: the performance of goalkeeper Andre Blake. He has had a mostly dismal season and did everything in his power to cost Philly the game on Sunday. All three Red Bull goals can be directly blamed on Blake. He looked completely out of his depth in crossing situations and appears to lack all confidence. Costly errors from the Jamaican would be harder to come back from this time.
Atlanta has the advantage in this matchup, with superior attacking skill and more trustworthy defending. They will let Philly control the game some and then pounce in space, the way the LA Galaxy did against Minnesota. Villalba could be a big difference-maker. As interesting as it would be for the Union to score a massive victory, I’m going with the Five Stripes.
It was almost all chalk in Round 1 of the MLS Playoffs. The only road team to deliver a win was LA Galaxy against Minnesota (although it took a massive comeback by Philadelphia Union to advance).
The marque match of the semifinal round is without a doubt another El Trafico, as LAFC host Zlatan and co. How big is the match? In a good sign as to the state of MLS, even the bad tickets are fetching top dollar.
Here are the odds and some quick thoughts on each match. Look for our predictions post by Wednesday.
MLS Conference Semifinal Odds
|NYCFC -107||Draw +265||Toronto +265|
|Seattle Sounders -139||Draw +280||Real Salt Lake +360|
|Atlanta United -152||Draw +310||Philadelphia Union +350|
|LAFC -250||Draw +410||LA Galaxy +550|
Odds & Ends
- LAFC are (rightfully) the biggest favorite of the week, priced at -250 to Galaxy’s +550. However, 1) for whatever reason, Galaxy are in LAFC’s head, 2) Galaxy looked pretty good against Minnesota!, 3) and they won without Zlatan doing well, who 4) always brings his A-game against LAFC. It only seems right that LAFC prevails here, but it won’t surprise anyone if Galaxy win.
- ATLUTD are only -152 at home against Philly. While that may seem low, they didn’t look great against New England. Only when the Pogba and Villalba subs were made did Atlanta “look like Atlanta.” However, Philadelphia was lit up at home by RBNY, so 🤷♀️. Having said all of that, while Atlanta doesn’t feel like a lock, they keep winning big games at home. And -152 a good price.
- Speaking of good prices, Seattle -139 at home?! Maybe we’re not giving RSL enough credit, but Seattle is a legit Cup contender. Don’t see them losing at home.
- Interestingly, that NYCFC vs Toronto price is very favorable to the Canadians. NYCFC started as even-money and just moved to slight favorites as we were writing this up. While LAFC vs Galaxy is the most intriguing match, this is probably the best of the bunch.
On Saturday, Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez went down with a scary knee injury. We don’t yet know the timetable, but no one in Atlanta seems optimistic, and it’s possible that Martinez will miss weeks or months.
Obviously, Martinez is a significant player whose injury carries significant consequences. He was in the middle of a 15-game goal streak when he went down, and he would have at least come close to beating out Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the Golden Boot. Atlanta’s attack changes completely without their star.
This is the backdrop for a crucial midweek match between Atlanta and NYCFC. A NYC win would all but seal them first place in the Eastern Conference, putting them ahead of Atlanta by seven points. If Atlanta wins, though, they would pull within one, and the Five Stripes’ final two games (against Montreal and New England) are both winnable. NYC face third-place Philly on Decision Day.
NYCFC vs Atlanta United Match Preview
First in the East gets you a first-round bye in the playoffs, which is extremely valuable. Wednesday’s game might be the biggest of the season for both teams. Let’s run through some tactical points:
1. Atlanta will likely play a three-at-the-back. NYCFC might as well, as they used something resembling a 3-4-3 in a 1-1 draw against FC Dallas on Sunday.
2. Dome Torrent’s Light Blues are MLS’s second-best team right now, and it probably isn’t close. They haven’t lost since August 11 (when they played at Atlanta) and they are the only team still in mathematical range of the Supporters’ Shield. Their attack is coordinated and deadly, and their possession is fluid and free-flowing. Maxi Moralez is a dark-horse MVP candidate, the orchestrator and maestro with high-volume possession influence.
While striker Heber is out with a collarbone injury, Valentin Castellanos is filling in capably at forward. Castellanos can score (he has 11 goals on the season), but most importantly he can do all the work of a No. 9. He occupies defenders to free space for Moralez and he makes the right channel runs, assuring that NYCFC’s attack keeps humming.
Atlanta will worry about the secondary scoring NYC can generate, with Moralez, Alexandru Mitrita, Anton Tinnerholm, and possibly Ismael Tajouri-Shradi off the bench able to put the ball in the net. Many teams struggle to find wingers and creators who can carve out chances in front of goal and run at defenders. ATL’s wingbacks (particularly the active Julian Gressel) will have to worry about NYC’s ability to get numbers in attack.
3. What will Atlanta do without Josef? It’s a good bet that Frank de Boer will start Brandon Vazquez up top as a target forward. When Martinez was out for three games in late June and early July, Vazquez started all three games, playing well enough to earn a couple more starts alongside Martinez in later July.
Vazquez is obviously a downgrade from Josef in terms of scoring, but the biggest concern could be the loss of a gravitational force up top. Martinez draws a ton of a attention, and he’s such a smart and savvy runner that defenses are constantly preoccupied with him. Vazquez won’t have that ability, and he’s not an especially fast or agile player to make up for it, nor is he a great passer of the ball.
A more intriguing option is Hector Villalba, who does not seem to be a favorite of de Boer. Villalba is lightning fast and a winger at heart, and he has a very good scoring record in MLS. He may not be a natural striker, and it’s not easy to see de Boer handing Villalba a start, but Tito playing up front ahead of Pity Martinez and Darlington Nagbe would be fun to watch.
I’ll give the edge here to NYCFC, who are playing at home and facing an Atlanta team missing their best player.
Match: Atlanta United vs. NYCFC
Date and Time: Sunday, Aug 11 at 4:00pm ET
Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Line: Atlanta United-136 | Draw +290 | NYCFC +330
Third place NYCFC is coming to town to battle second place Atlanta United, the top deck is open and tickets are going like __ (insert favorite Atlanta or Southern food here). This game is set up so well it could be an MLS regular-season game to excite even Zlatan!
And if not, why not? Both teams are coming off wins and looking to chase down first place Philadelphia Union (42 points) as we head into the business end of the season.
After a slow start to the campaign, 2018 MLS Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez is back leading the Atlanta attack. Don’t look now Carlos Vela, but Martinez has scored in nine consecutive matches, tying his MLS record.
That scoring run has Martinez, who set the single season league record last year with 31, on 18 goals, just four behind Vela.
Atlanta is, of course, a different team this year without Miguel Almiron and with Frank de Boer behind the bench in place of Tata Martino.
Gone too is Atlanta’s expansive, easy on the eye style. The switch to de Boer’s more rigid ways took some adjusting to for 2018 MLS Cup Champions, as they seemed to be asking if it’s not broke, why fix it?
The one player that has benefitted from the new way is center back Miles Robinson, a 22-year-old American that finds himself in contention for the U23/Olympic team, having become a regular under de Boer, playing all 24 of United’s games in 2019, starting 23.
Interestingly, Robinson’s situation is a virtual echo of the one James Sands faces with NYCFC. Sands also went from a spare part under Torrent and his successor Partick Vieira in 2018 to a key piece of the puzzle for his club, starting at the center of a three-center back set.
Sands missed some time recently with a broken arm and Torrent rested the 19-year-old for Thursday night’s 3-2 win over Houston but expect the Rye, New York native back in the lineup Sunday against Martinez and company.
Sands is teamed with veterans Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens with the experienced pair also providing some beef that the 5’11” Sands, listed at 162 pounds lacks, allowing the former midfielder to showcase his ball-playing skills from the center of the defense.
It was a big moment for NYC against Houston when Maxi Moralez checked into the game Thursday night, mere moments after 10 man Houston had taken a 2-1 lead with a Mauro Manotas goal, decidedly against the run of play.
Moralez is the key to New York’s attack, teaming with Alexandru Mitrita and striker’s Heber and Valentin Castellanos who came off the bench to score the tying and winning goals versus Houston.
Atlanta has been extremely reliant on Martinez for goals this season. The Atlanta marksman’s 18 goals are a far cry from the four each tallied by Julian Gressel and Ezequiel Barco, next on Atlanta’s goals list.
Barco has yet to live up to the hype generated by his big money move to Atlanta prior to the 2018 season. Doubts were swirling around Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez earlier this season, but the tide seems to be turning. If Pity is synched up with Josef Martinez come playoff time, then Atlanta could mount a serious defense of its title.
As for Sunday, Atlanta’s home record of 9 wins, 1 loss, and 3 draws makes United a favorite against any team coming into Mercedes Benz, with the possible exception of LAFC. New York should make it tough on United and a draw isn’t out of the question, but with 70,00 plus screaming fans behind them Atlanta should enjoy some home cooking come Sunday.
LAFC lost again to the LA Galaxy in last week’s LA Derby. Afterwards, critics raged that LAFC wilt under the pressure of big games.
Perhaps it is a bit much to proclaim that this team — arguably the most dominant and talented MLS has ever seen — can’t get it done in one-off, all-important matches, but there is some history here.
LAFC have never beaten the Galaxy, their bitter rival. They lost at home in the playoffs last year to Real Salt Lake, a heavy underdog. Nine days before the latest loss to the Galaxy, they dropped a US Open Cup quarterfinal to the Portland Timbers.
Their struggles in these types of games has a bit of a Pep Guardiola Manchester City feel to it, the way that LAFC don’t quite choke, per se, but instead simply don’t win, failing to live up to their regular level.
It is a phenomenon that Bob Bradley and co. will deal with and hear about until they win a big game. This year’s playoffs, which will be the ultimate measuring stick for their legacy, should prove something of a testing ground. In MLS, you can’t truly be the league’s best team if you don’t win MLS Cup. Everyone understands it, as brutal as it can be for regular season winners who falter in one-off games.
As LAFC cruise to a resounding Supporters’ Shield win (the probability of which sits at 95 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight), they will continue to face questions about their ability to pick up the crucial wins that will be required of them.
LAFC vs Atlanta United Preview
This Friday’s blockbuster against Atlanta United won’t come close to the importance of an El Trafico game, or a tournament game. But it’s an opportunity to play against a marquee team on national television.
Atlanta have been mercurial and sometimes mediocre this season, but they are coming off a nice six-point week and have still managed to reach second in the Eastern Conference. Pity Martinez looked kinda good off the bench in their win against D.C. United on Sunday.
Let’s take a look at a couple of tactical notes ahead of one of the more interesting matches of the MLS season.
1 – It’s probably a bit premature to say that Pity Martinez has reached some meaningful new level. By this point, he’s not going to suddenly turn into the superstar we all thought he was. But if he starts improving and becomes playable again for coach Frank de Boer, Atlanta’s calculus changes this season.
De Boer’s played a 3-5-2 in each of the last two games, bringing Pity off the bench and playing Brandon Vazquez alongside Josef Martinez up top. It has not been a perfect solution, but Atlanta look better playing three-at-the-back, and Vazquez’s presence as a pure No. 9 adds a new wrinkle for teams defending Josef. With a hold-up striker diverting attention, space can theoretically open Atlanta’s star.
When Vazquez starts in that 3-5-2, though, there is no obvious place for Pity. Sticking him at the top of the midfield is untenable defensively with Darlington Nagbe already playing as a finesse box-to-box No. 8. It’s debatable whether Pity is best used as a second striker underneath Josef anyway, but it’s not like Pity has been good enough that de Boer should shape the formation to fit him.
A late goal and assist to slip past DCU will probably be enough to get Pity back in the lineup, most likely replacing Vazquez. Atlanta will have to have Pity be a difference-maker on the ball, and also manage to not make costly turnovers.
2 — This might be something of a redemption game for LAFC’s midfield, which did not perform to its usual high level in the loss to the Galaxy. They were outworked, a point Bob Bradley made after the game, and struggled to distribute the ball effectively.
It’s hard to see the Galaxy’s approach being repeatable for other clubs, though, especially without a player like Jonathan dos Santos in there. LAG had to work really hard to avoid losing the midfield battle, and there was nothing tactical they did (outside of maybe focusing more on Eduard Atuesta) that presents any sort of blueprint for other teams to use.
This game will come down to whether Atlanta bunkers or not — I’m betting they will, to an extent, but try to keep a ton of possession when they get the ball. LAFC are too good, particularly at home, to not drive opponents back and force them to play a deep defensive line. Pushing your defense forward with an aggressive possession shape against Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi is death.
De Boer might end up learning that lesson the hard way. If Atlanta get blitzed, a de Boer misstep may well be the cause.
Bob Bradley probably won’t make some fatal tactical mistake. He’s Bob Bradley. But LAFC can be beat (remember when they lost 1-0 at Colorado with an A- XI?), and Atlanta, as we all know, have a certain bit of game-breaking talent. We’ll see it play out Friday night.
At this stage of the MLS season, we can confidently place a group of five teams at the top of the Eastern Conference hierarchy:
Other playoff contenders — notably the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, Orlando City SC and the New England Revolution — will hang around, but the existing group of five will be tough to challenge.
To handicap the race, let’s take a look at each of the East elites, including what they do well and poorly and how they’ve played in recent weeks.
DCU sit second in the Eastern Conference, barely a nick ahead of a threatening group of three — Atlanta, NYRB, and NYCFC. D.C. are in danger are falling further behind.
Even as they stick around in the upper tier in the conference, it grows harder and harder to proclaim them as legitimate contenders. They’ve won just twice in their last 10 games.
Luciano Acosta is suspended currently for a red card, and has generally taken a step back from last season’s ascent to stardom. They haven’t scored at the rate most expected despite Wayne Rooney’s continued excellence.
By the time Acosta is transferred elsewhere (which seems like an inevitability, whether this window or next), D.C. will be severely missing attacking creativity. In fact, they’ve been missing attacking creativity even with Acosta in the lineup. D.C. rank in the lower tiers of shots per game and xG per game. They lack difference-makers — players who can find the ball and pick out passes that others don’t see.
Acosta has been a difference-maker in the past, but this season his productivity has waned. DCU don’t have other players who can both fill in when Acosta’s production dips and, most importantly, help boost the Argentine. They need a secondary creator.
Lucas Rodriguez is a dribbler, but he’s not a passer or an adept connector. Paul Arriola is a workhorse. The deeper midfielders have yet to find ways to impact further up the field the way players like Cristian Roldan in Seattle have.
D.C. have to surround Rodriguez and Arriola with players who can move the ball and keep D.C.’s attack from faltering. Rodriguez, while electric on the ball, has an xGChain/96 figure of 0.96, lower than that of Gyasi Zardes. Arriola is a high-caliber player, but similarly lacks the ability to find difference-making passes.
Above all else, D.C. need a shake-up. They’ve clearly stagnated. We’ll see what this transfer window brings.
NYC lost twice in MLS in the last couple of weeks, to the Portland Timbers and the Red Bulls. In between those, they sandwiched a penalty-kick defeat in the US Open Cup quarterfinals against Orlando City.
Pigeons fans need not worry too much about these recent setbacks. The Red Bulls loss had a fluky feel to it — NYRB scored their goals on a penalty-kick and a bizarre, controversial referee mismanagement situation. NYC had dominated much of the New York Derby. They had their chances against Portland, losing 1-0 despite dominating the xG battle. Penalty shootouts are basically coin tosses.
In general, City look like one of the league’s better teams, and hold games in hand on most of their Eastern Conference rivals. Their attack is deep. Younger options have emerged in midfield alongside Alex Ring; most notably, Keaton Parks has become an important starter, and James Sands will continue to have a role. Maxi Moralez is a legitimate MVP candidate.
Dome Torrent has his team spreading opponents out, sending the fullbacks forward, and thriving off of diagonal switches in the attacking third. It is an effective formula, but they have to be careful to prevent the well running dry.
Have Atlanta adjusted to Frank de Boer’s system? I’m inclined to say that they have, to a certain extent. They’ve worked their way back up to third in the Eastern Conference, and they have started to improve in midfield. Justin Meram has shown flashes of pre-Orlando City Justin Meram.
But when they win, defending and Josef Martinez make the difference.
Ezequiel Barco and Hector Villalba are still injured. With Brek Shea out for the year and Mikey Amrbose battling thigh problems, they don’t have a left back. Pity Martinez has not yet transformed into a world-beating superstar, and it’s hard to see that happening any time soon. They have a ceiling now that they didn’t have in the past.
The five-game win streak they ripped off at the beginning of May appears to have been a product of a weak schedule; they took four of a possible 15 points in the five games prior to Wednesday’s 5-0 demolition of 10-man Houston.
De Boer should roll with the 3-5-2-ish formation he tested against the Dynamo. Julian Gressel is best used as a wingback, and a three-at-the-back is the only way De Boer can fit the center back trio of Miles Robinson, Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez and Michael Parkhurst together. Pity’s defensive apathy would be most effectively sheltered in a second striker role.
Atlanta will keep trying to find the best version of themselves.
New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls, contrary to previous NYRB seasons, look set up to succeed in the playoffs instead of the regular season. They took some time to coalesce this year — a process that makes sense, considering the departure of Tyler Adams, injuries on the backline, Champions League congestion, and Kaku’s going off the rails at various times — and now they are motoring along at a reasonable pace.
It’s hard to see them going on a run and challenging for first in the conference, barring some big signing of a winger. Reigning Defender of the Year Aaron Long has been the subject of transfer rumors this summer. If they sell, they make things very difficult for themselves this season.
But aside from Adams’s departure and Bradley Wright-Phillips’s decline to super-sub status, not too much is different about this Red Bulls team from previous iterations. They play a similar style and press the ball well. In the waning BWP years (and first Brian White year!), they’ll want to make a serious run in October.
The current top team, Philly have been better and more consistent than every team in the East except for (arguably) NYCFC. They have the look of a bona fide elite, though the recent injury of Jamiro Monteiro has stunted their recent form.
They may be a bit overrated in some areas. Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie haven’t had seasons to write home about, though Jack Elliott has been very good at center back. Andre Blake is perpetually the most overrated keeper in the league. The signing of journeyman American Andrew Wooten at striker is unlikely to be a serious difference-maker.
In general, though, the Union are legit. Ilsinho is a weapon off the bench that other teams don’t have. Kai Wagner has been one of the league’s best left backs this season. The diamond formation has worked wonders, and continues to produce quality possession. They will face a battle to finish at the top of the conference.
With the exception of a thrilling final five minutes that also saw Josef Martinez put Atlanta ahead in the 91st, this was a sloppy, physical, frustrating mess of a game.
Atlanta starts fast then disappears
The home team started strong, controlling possession and the overall tempo of the game. Playing on their front foot, Atlanta got on the board first after Pity Martinez threaded a perfect ball to Justin Meram, which he neatly tucked away past Luis Robles.
Atlanta slowed the pace down but looked in control until the 29th minute. Then center-back Florentin Pogba — who had looked among the best on the pitch up until that point — went out with an injury. The entire tone of the game quickly changed.
New York leveled the game eight minutes after Pogba’s departure as Daniel Royer capitalized on poor Atlanta defending to knock a left-footed shot into the top corner past Brad Guzan. The game went to half-time tied 1-1.
New York takes over in the second half
Whether it was the Red Bulls stepping up their game or Atlanta simply looking disorganized and disinterested, New York took command in the second half.
The Red Bulls took a 2-1 lead in the 60th minute when Brian White was left unchecked by a sloppy Atlanta defensive, easily burying a feed from Alex Muyl.
Another Pity-ful performance
Just as Pogba’s injury departure changed the game, so did a timely substitution in the 63rd minute by Atlanta coach Frank de Boer.
The micro Pity Martinez Experience is the perfect encapsulation of the macro experience of this game in general. Pity is capable of fleeting moments of brilliance, like his pass to Meram leading to the opener.
Mostly though, he’s sloppy, careless, lackadaisical and temperamental. He’s a frustrating and miserable player to watch.
Fortunately for Atlanta fans in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, they didn’t have to deal with the Pity Martinez Experience past the 63rd minute. He was subbed off to absolutely no pattering of applause as Brandon Vázquez took his place.
Atlanta looked immediately improved.
They broke through in the 79th minute, as Josef Martinez drew a penalty in the box. Moments later, he leveled the game from the spot 2-2.
Five minutes of fury
Even in more turnover prone and careless stretches of play, the game had been chippy and physical throughout.
Everything amped up the final five minutes in stoppage time.
Josef Martinez netted a brace in the 91st minute, heading home a goal to give Atlanta a 3-2 lead.
Just two minutes later, BWP, who subbed on in the 77th minute for Brian White, tied the game 3-3 when Atlanta forgot the general concepts of defending yet again.
The Atlanta crowd went utterly silent at that point.
The players, however, did not.
The chippy play that had been building all game reached a boiling point in the 95th minute. A couple of on-field scrums nearly broke out, and the refs just decided to end the game, leaving the home crowd stunned.
Updated: June 10th, 2019
Despite a recent resurgence, reigning champs Atlanta United have fallen from pre-season favorites of +500 to +900. Last year’s Supporters’ Shield winner for best regular-season record, New York Red Bulls, dropped even further, going from +550 to +1600.
LAFC, who started the year at +700, are no prohibitive favorites at +200. They’re followed by Zlatan-led LA Galaxy (+750), the aforementioned ATL UTD, and NYCFC (+900). Eastern conference table-toppers Philadelphia Union have climbed from a pre-season +3300 to +1600.
The biggest risers from pre-season are San Jose. They’ve climbed from the cellar (+25000) to a respectable +6000.
(Odds as of June 10th, 2019)
|LAFC +200||LA Galaxy – +750||Atlanta United +900||NYCFC +900|
|DC United +1400||New York Red Bulls +1600||Seattle Sounders +1600||Philadelphia Union +1600|
|Montreal Impact +1600||Columbus Crew +2400||Houston Dynamo +2400||FC Dallas +3100|
|Sporting KC +3100||Toronto FC +3100||Portland Timbers +3400||Minnesota United +5000|
|Orlando City +5000||San Jose Earthquakes +6000||Chicago Fire +9500||Real Salt Lake +9500|
|Vancouver Whitecaps +11000||Colorado Rapids +12000||New England Revolution +12000||FC Cincinnati +20000|
MEN of the Match
For his 65th minute winner and first career MLS goal, NYRB rookie Tom Barlow was singled out as Man of the Match.
In truth, several Red Bulls would have been worthy recipients of the honor. Michael Murillo, Amro Tarek, Daniel Royer, and Sean Nealis all merited consideration. Had I been asked I would have given the nod to fullback Kemar Lawrence for his high octane defensive work throughout.
But MoM or not, the candid and ebullient Lawrence was clearly the star of the post-game.
The Jamaican international’s locker is the first inside the door at the home team’s room at Red Bull Arena. With the media packed tightly around Lawrence on Sunday night, egress and access became a problem for his teammates, including injured striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, who was seen politely making his way through the thicket, balancing a tray of food as he went on his way.
Lawrence came into this matchup with Atlanta hyped to avenge last season’s playoff loss, which he sat out injured. Lawerence played Sunday’s match like a man with a point to prove and his intensity was met by Atlanta’s Hector “Tito” Villalba, with the two battling for 90 minutes and then some, as the Atlanta man attempted to get at Lawrence after the final whistle had blown.
Stationed in front of his locker, Lawrence was practically bursting to say his piece. “I told you I was gonna, right. I told you, I’m gonna win, right? I’m gonna win it for my team. And we went out there we did,” Lawrence began.
And he was just getting started. “I told you, I’ve been carrying around a lot of anger because I got injured last year. And I missed out on the biggest games ever for my team, the Conference Finals. And I just had that feeling. If I was on the field last year, we would have won that game. So I know I had the worst offseason last year knowing I was injured. So getting back from injury and facing these guys, when I’m getting really my full fitness level. It was just amazing. And the only thing on my mind was to repay them for how my team felt. I felt that we did that today.”
Lawrence and Villalba were involved in a late-game incident that led to the post-match fracas when Lawrence stood over the prone Atlanta forward and exulted. Atlanta got a free kick out it, one that could have mattered as Red Bulls clung to a 1-0 lead.
Atlanta took offense at Lawrence’s exuberance, with team captain Michael Parkhurst telling High Press Soccer afterward that, “we were upset with how Lawrence stood over Tito at the end of the game, and, you know, barked at him. I just don’t think there’s a need for that.”
Villaba also expressed similar feelings, but when word was relayed to Lawrence that Atlanta felt that he had been disrespectful, the Jamaican chuckled. “Lack of respect? No, honestly I can tell you what I said, I said, bring your best. I said, come on, bring your best. I see you bring your best against every guy, week in and week out, I want your best. That’s what I said. So if he feels like that’s disrespectful, that’s his fault.”
Exciting match from two emerging rivals
The match itself was a high-energy affair with New York flying out of the traps, perhaps in a bid to wear down Atlanta, who played and won Wednesday night in Vancouver.
Atlanta’s 1-0 win over the Whitecaps was the fifth on the trot for the defending MLS Cup Champions and the club’s fifth shutout in a row.
Atlanta coach Frank de Boer knew his team had missed an opportunity to topple the Red Bulls while playing with a man advantage from the 35th minute when Tim Parker was shown the line for pulling Josef Martinez and “denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.”
“Everybody is very disappointed to get not even a more out of it. And yeah, the time was right for three points,” de Boer noted, adding, “it’s always difficult to win here.”
The United coach didn’t seem to be looking for excuses. Rather, de Boer seemed forthright when asked about possible fatigue. “100%? It’s fatigue, I gave him two days off, because we have to be physically but also mentally, ready for Salt Lake, on Friday. And, you know, I saw the spirit was there, you know, they wanted but maybe the body and the mind, you know, sometimes will not do what you think will want to do.”
The big moments in the match came down to the red card to Parker and the New York goal. New York’s impressive depth, not an easy thing to build in a salary capped MLS, was key The Red Bulls started without USMNT center back Aaron Long and 35 minutes in his partner, Parker, was shown red.
Sean Nealis was introduced and he would be instrumental in the game’s lone goal. Red Bulls coach Chris Armas praised the substitute for his courage to make a play. “Sean Nealis drives with the ball on that play from center back and he makes a really good pass.”
Nealis set up Royer, who hit a brilliant cross that Barlow somehow managed to head back across Brad Guzan’s goal and into the net for what turned out to be the winner.
It was exciting, it was a bit nasty, and it seemed like the beginning of a rivalry sparked by genuine dislike.
De Boer doesn’t seem to mind. “Yeah, but it’s nice, you know, to have that kind of vitality between two teams, you know, because, yeah, that makes the sports. Fun, I think to watch, you know, they’re eager to win against each other, and they will do everything to win it from each other. Of course, there always has to be respect, of course, on both sides. But yeah, this is what you want. This is what you want to experience every week.”
And what does Lawrence think of the rivalry?
“I feel like this is like on the top of the list. I feel like there’s really a rivalry there.”
And how does Lawrence feel about his battles with Villalba? “Every now and then,” a smiling Lawrence began, “you’re going to find one player that you don’t like. You know, a lot of guys around the league like me,” but the New York fullback concluded with a shrug, “I can’t please everyone.”
MLS Matchday 12 odds are released and with loads of quality games this week. Our two marquee match-ups for the week are: Philadelphia vs Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls vs Atlanta United
MLS Matchweek 12 Game Odds
All listed odds from May 15 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ.
|Wednesday, May 15|
|Toronto FC -150||Draw +310||D.C. United +380|
|Houston Dynamo -150||Draw +320||Portland Timbers +350|
|Vancouver Whitecaps +220||Draw +250||Atlanta United +120|
|Seattle Sounders -220||Draw +360||Orlando City +550|
|Thursday, May 16||Draw +260||Southampton +195|
|Los Angeles FC -310||Draw +440||FC Dallas +750|
|Saturday, May 18||Liverpool -310|
|Montreal Impact -135||Draw +280||New England +350|
|Real Salt Lake +130||Draw +270||Toronto FC +185|
|San Jose Earthquakes +105||Draw +280||Chicago Fire +220|
|Philadelphia -120||Draw +280||Seattle Sounders +300|
|Minnesota United +115||Draw +250||Columbus +230|
|Houston Dynamo -130||Draw +290||D.C. United +320|
|Kansas City -250||Draw +390||Vancouver Whitecaps +600|
|Sunday, May 19|
|Orlando City -135||Draw +280||FC Cincinnati +370|
|New York Red Bulls +140||Draw +250||Atlanta United +185|
|FC Dallas +190||Draw +260||Los Angeles FC +130|
|LA Galaxy -270||Draw +440||Colorado +650|
Visit FanDuel Sportsbook NJ as games near for updated odds and, for NJ residents, to place your wagers.
Odds and Ends
- In our first marquee match of the week, Philadelphia Union (-120) take on Seattle Sounders (+300). Not only does Philadelphia have the advantage of playing at home, but they are also sitting 1st in the Eastern Conference and have a 5 game unbeaten streak. Seattle Sounders are not in a bad position either – sitting 3rd in the Western Conference. However, they have only won 1 out of 4 away games and have not beat Philly since 2016.
- In our other marquee match up, New York Red Bulls (+140) take on Atlanta United (+185). Last week, we had high hopes for NYRB who seemed to be getting back in their groove with two back-to-back wins…until Montreal brought them back to reality beating them 2-1 in New York. They did, however, redeem themselves against Dallas this past Saturday. Meanwhile, Atlanta has been on a roll with four back to back wins. Atlanta does, however, have a difficult week ahead of them as they travel all the way to Vancouver on Wednesday after just playing this past Sunday and then heading to New York on Sunday. While Atlanta is doing that, Red Bulls get to recover and prepare the whole week for Sunday’s match up. Regardless, this will be a good indicator as to which team’s improved form is for real.
MLS Matchday 11 odds are released. Starting off the week we already have four matches on Wednesday night, including our marquee match of the week:Atlanta United and Toronto FC.
MLS Matchweek 11 Game Odds
All listed odds from May 08 onFanDuel Sportsbook NJ.
|Wednesday, May 8|
|Atlanta United -180||Draw +340||Toronto FC +450|
|Columbus Crew +100||Draw +270||LA Galaxy +250|
|New York Red Bulls -135||Draw +280||Montreal Impact +380|
|Chicago Fire -165||Draw +310||New England +430|
|Friday, May 10||Draw +270||LA Galaxy +250|
|Vancouver Whitecaps +130||Draw +260||Portland Timbers +190|
|Saturday, May 11|
|FC Cincinnati +120||Draw +260||Montreal Impact +210|
|FC Dallas +100||Draw +260||New York Red Bulls +260|
|Toronto FC +100||Draw +280||Philadelphia Union +240|
|LA Galaxy +100||Draw +280||New York City FC +250|
|Columbus Crew +150||Draw +270||Los Angeles FC +260|
|New England -105||Draw +280||San Jose Earthquakes +250|
|Chicago Fire -120||Draw +280||Minnesota United +290|
|Colorado +105||Draw +280||Real Salt Lake +220|
|Sunday, May 12|
|Atlanta United -195||Draw +370||Orlando City +480|
Visit FanDuel Sportsbook NJ as games near for updated odds and, for NJ residents, to place your wagers.
Odds and Ends
- In our marquee match of the week, Atlanta United (-180) take on Toronto FC (+450) at home. We chose this match for a few reasons: 1) Atlanta had a fantastic upset versus Kansas City last week 2) Atlanta has yet to beat Toronto FC and 3) Barco will be missing from Atlanta’s line up as he is off with Argentina for the U20 World Cup. Pity Martinez, who is still without any assists or goals this season, will be leading the midfield for Atlanta against Toronto and their superstar transfer Pozuelo. The betting odds are in Atlanta’s favor but this match may prove to be more difficult than expected.
- Also playing tonight, New York Red Bulls (-135) take on Montreal Impact (+380) and things seem to be looking up for NYRB. Last week, NYRB put a stop to LA Galaxy’s 7 game winning streak in a 3-2 thriller. Now, NYRB take on Montreal Impact (who are currently sitting third in the Eastern Conference) at home again. NYRB have done well at home…let’s see if they can continue the trend.
- On Saturday, LA Galaxy (+100) will be back at home taking on New York City FC (+250) after their difficult loss to NYRB. This was their first loss in 8 games while New York City are coming off a 2-0 win in Montreal and have been unbeaten in the last 6 matches. In the last head to head match up between these two teams (March 11, 2019), New York City won at home 2-1.
The sleeping giant known as Atlanta United may have finally woken up.
The team, as well as coach Frank de Boer, are starting to understand each other a little better on the pitch.
This was the third win in four games for United. It’s quite a turnaround for the Five Stripes. The MLS season started poorly, and the CONCACAF Champions League was rough. Where has the improvement come from lately?
FdB making slight tactical adjustments that are working
On one hand, Frank de Boer has not changed much from the start of the season. He’s still playing a possession-heavy game, but the team is opening up and attacking more.
His formation varied from a 4-5-1 to a 4-3-3 during the game against Sporting KC Sunday night. There were times during the match that Atlanta had as many as 8 players on the attacking side of the pitch. Atlanta was able to play the possession-based style that de Boer wants, holding the ball for 55% of the time while maintaining a 87% passing accuracy, but playing an uptempo style that was reminiscent of last season.
A look at their heat map from WhoScored against KC (ATL is on the right with 771 touches) shows they dominated play in the middle of the pitch–and higher up the pitch as well.
Compare that to some of their poorest showings–like against Philadelphia below where they’re on the left (and where they had nearly double the touches–but many in their defensive third).
Or look at the draw against FC Cincinnati (same, same)–and you’ll see how Atlanta is pressing more and playing higher today versus last month. The trend really started not against New England Revolution, but in a loss against FC Dallas where they were the better, but unluckier, squad.
Line-up changes working as well and the rise of Barco
The placement of Michael Parkhurst at left-back was questionable as it was the first time he started in that position in 7 years. Parkhurst age showed at times but in the end, de Boer made the correct choice in starting Parkhurst. His ability to cross the ball, defensive presence and the ability to see the field was a great advantage to the team.
The transition game of Atlanta United looked quick and unstoppable against Sporting KC. Ezequiel Barco is showing that he can be the replacement at the #10 position for Miguel Almiron. He was able to link with Josef Martinez and create more chances on the night. He scored from outside the 18-yard box on a rocket shot and had an assist on the second goal for Martinez.
This connection is what Atlanta fans have been hoping to see all season. While on the topic of Josef Martinez, last years MLS Golden Boot winner seems to have found his confidence and is putting the ball in the back of the net. Josef Martinez showed Sunday night he is ready to get back to putting the ball in the back of the net. His awareness of where the ball was inside the 18-yard box was uncanny. He put his body on the line every chance he was able to get a touch on the ball. Part of the reason ATL has had a better non-shot xG tally in every single game except for the opener is due to Martinez’s adept in the box movement.
The midfield continued to be controlled by Darlington Nagbe. His precision passing and ability to win balls back in the attacking half are proving to be valuable. The return of Eric Remedi was welcomed after a two-game absence.
Defensively the team looked like a wall. Brad Guzan was tested very little as the back four held Sporting KC to only 3 shots on target the majority coming in the first few minutes of the game. Miles Robinson is proving to be a defensive stronghold and the use of him and Leonardo Gonzalez Perez game after game for de Boer is paying off. The combination is proving to be one of the strongest in MLS, and has helped guide the team to three clean sheets in the last four games.
Still some areas of improvement
Atlanta has been taking a number of shots outside the 18 yard box. These tend to be lower quality shots, and that is part of the reason they’ve posted losses like against FC Dallas, where ATL was clearly the better team.
Finding passing lanes and crosses to take advantage of Martinez’s inside the box movement would also help create higher quality big opportunities.
Regardless, if Atlanta can stay healthy and find a consistent left-back, the team is in position to turn around their dismal start and be the playoff team everyone expected at the beginning of the year.
Atlanta United defeated Sporting KC 3-0 at Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday in a game that felt like a return to normalcy for the defending MLS Cup champs.
Let us count the ways.
1. They were fun to watch
Part of the reason Atlanta so quickly embraced UTD was they played an exciting brand of soccer.
This year…not so much.
Even in their better performances and wins, they never consistently hit the “exhilarating” pace that defined them during their first two years.
Away at KC, they were counter-attacking and pressing, generating shots and playing with confidence.
They looked like Atlanta United.
2. Martinez got the goals and attention, but wasn’t the best player
Josef Martinez is an amazing player who broke the MLS seasonal goal record last year. He won MVP.
This year, Ezequiel Barco is looking like the Almiron-engine that will drive United.
On that note, Pity Martinez looks like the 2018-version of Barco: a talented fly in the ointment who may be a year away from making the impact we all expected.
3. However…Atlanta got kinda lucky
More on this later, but Frank de Boerhas eschewed his worst impulses and let his squad open it up lately.
However, the game against KC isn’t necessarily a sustainable model. Atlanta took a high number of shots outside the 18. Barco converted his. Josef Martinez’s second shot was just inside the box but it was not a high percentage shot. He just struck it incredibly well.
Regardless, Atlanta passed the eye test on Sunday. It looks like a squad that found their footing and went back to the basics that have made them successful in the past.
I had been right the entire season.
Atlanta United have looked markedly better the last two games under FdB, and they were 100% the superior team in today’s 1-2 loss to FC Dallas as well as last week’s 2-0 win against the New England Revolution.
The underlying numbers back this up.
Ball don’t lie Part II
Part of my continued hammering of de Boer was rooted in the fact that Inter and Crystal Palace were genuinely horrific by any and ever measurable during his abbreviated tenures there.
The Five Stripes followed suit. They were among the worst teams in the MLS the first few games of the season, and all of the numbers backed that up.
The past two games tell a different story.
FdB’s first four games were a shitshow. No intensity. No attack. No offense. No scoring.
As this graphic illustrates, Atlanta’s attack through the end of March was “ineffectual” to say the least.
The one bright spot they had going for them was their non-shooting xG. A month into the season, they saw an uptick in the scoring opportunities their movements around the box should’ve been creating.
But they weren’t scoring. At all.
They did well in possession, but that possession saw the ball moving backwards too often and not into meaningful channels towards the attacking third.
The past two games? It’s been a different story.
Their xG and non-shot xG have outpaced New England and Dallas.
Against New England, they were actually out-possessed but created quality shots from through balls and individual skill (see: Ezequiel Barco). A total of 68% of their shots came from inside the 18 (ATL is blue in the below chart). This meant that all of that non-shot xG was actually being taken advantage of finally.
Today, ATL out-possessed Dallas 71-29%.
They took an outstanding 22 shots on goal with 8 on target (Dallas took 8 total with an unsustainably efficient 6 on target). Part of Atlanta’s “inefficiency” against Dallas was from taking more shots outside of the 18 (they’re red below, at 45%). However, part of the Dallas loss was fluky bad luck. If Barco doesn’t hit the post on his screamer, everyone’s mood and perception of the team is probably different.
Will de Boer stay the course or revert back to his losing ways?
De Boer has clearly shifted strategy since losing to the Crew. Atlanta is attacking more and creating more opportunities.
While they have a -3 goal differential for the season, thanks to their improved play the past two games, their xG for 2019 is now 9.2 compared to an 8.1 xGA. Their expected goal differential is +1.1 compared to a -3 reality. There will be regression to the mean if this keeps up and their record should improve.
The key for Atlanta is that de Boer doesn’t get discouraged by a bad result or two and go back to what’s familiar to him — which has been and is a losing strategy for years.
Atlanta is improving. Now the results need to catch up to the numbers.
After seven weeks of MLS, the Western Conference is nosing ahead of the East, reversing a trend from last year.
LAFC and the Seattle Sounders are likely the two best teams in the league (a case can be made LAFC is certainly the best), easily outpacing eastern leaders DC United and the Columbus Crew. With an undefeated Houston Dynamo, a CCL-free Sporting KC and spry FC Dallas, the West looks like it could produce a superior group of seven playoff teams.
At the bottom, however, the difference is stark, and could be spark an East revival. The floundering New England Revolution are the only bottom-tier East team that fits the profile of a true last-place contender. Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls will surely sort themselves out enough to accelerate up the standings. Hectic, draw-happy NYCFC could rise as well.
Five East teams are out of the playoffs as it stands, with each team having played between five and seven games: the four mentioned above, plus eighth-place Chicago Fire. Let’s go over each one, and evaluate whether they can overtake the playoff teams:
The Fire are a confusing team. They theoretically have at least some attacking talent, enough to win games and challenge good teams. Nico Gaitan arrived as a new DP talent not too long ago. With CJ Sapong playing either up top or on the wing as a target scorer, Chicago have versatility.
But watching them, it’s hard to discern what they’re trying to do, or any consistency to their approach. Aleksandar Katai’s role is ambiguous. The midfield can pass, but there is little connectedness, and the front four is all over the place. They have to sort themselves out before they can maximize their ability.
New York Red Bulls
Rumors of Thierry Henry taking the managerial job notwithstanding, the Red Bulls have underperformed to start the year. They’ve managed just one win from their first six games, and now will lose Kaku for (presumably) a significant stretch of games after he went a little bonkers in Kansas City.
One of their biggest keys to getting back on track is Cristian Casseres Jr. in midfield. The Red Bulls need strength and ball-winning out of his position. Stability there could rub off on the backline.
If the Fire are difficult to figure out, NYC are doubly so. Discerning what Dome Torrent is trying to do is impossible on a game-by-game basis. With five draws from six games, this is an oddball team. No one really knows what to expect from them.
It will be interesting to see how Torrent manages the playing time of his wingers. Alexandru Mitrita, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Jonathan Lewis, Jesus Medina and Valentin Castellanos are competing for the same minutes, and once Heber takes the starting forward job, none of them will be able to play as a false 9. Right now, it looks like Mitrita and Lewis are the favorites to start, though Castellanos had his best game in MLS last week in Minnesota.
Atlanta’s road win over New England will inspire renewed confidence in a Five Stripes team enduring a sluggish start to the season. Winning against the Revs is far from a difficult task, but there were positive elements to take.
Most notably, Ezequiel Barco produced a breakout performance. With Hector Villalba starting on the left side, Barco had space to maneuver and generate chances. His confidence looked as high as it’s been in MLS. More performances like that would be a boon for Atlanta as they deal with complacency and Pity Martinez’s injury.
New England Revolution
The Revs are a few classes below the rest of these clubs. Outside of a 2-1 home win over Minnesota on March 30, New England have very publicly struggled. Brad Friedel, looking a lot worse now than he did in the early days of his coaching tenure, blamed MLS’s structure for his managerial deficiencies.
The attack, as ever, is marginally good enough to get the Revs into the playoffs with a strong midfield and stout defense. Those things, reader, are not happening in New England. The midfield is a revolving door, particularly when Wilfried Zahibo plays, and the backline is leaky and mistake-prone. A high-energy press will nick them points, but teams figured the Revs out a long time ago, and they aren’t organized enough at the back to keep the ball out of their net.
In a game that was a must-win for Atlanta United, a key early decision may have been the turning point Frank de Boer and the Five Stripes needed.
In the 15th minute away at New England Revolution, Eric Remedi suffered a head injury. De Boer opted to sub in Ezequiel Barco. The tone of the game–and possibly the season–immediately shifted from there.
Barco quickly impacted the game, scoring in the 29th minute with a goal assisted by Tito Villalba. Barco netted a brace with what should be an MLS Goal of the Week nominee in the 49th minute with a right-footed bomb to the upper 90 from outside the 18-yard box (2:05 in the below video).
Miles Robinson continued to perform like a seasoned veteran. Franco Escobar and Pity Martinez also took the pitch as subs late in the game. Both players are returning from injury and have seen limited time this season.
FdB ends a long win-less streak
In the victory, Frank de Boer ended his 900-day winless streak. He did so, in part, by doing something that hasn’t been a trademark of his coaching philosophy the past few years: adapting.
De Boer moved away from his 3-4-3 formation and went back to the 4-3-3 formation that sometimes floated into a 4-2-3-1 formation. The team seemed to be more comfortable and play more organized. Atlanta had a clear identity and the players knew what their roles were and played them well.
The real question worth asking: is Frank de Boer starting to feel the pressure to win and maybe straying away from the European style that he is accustomed to and playing more of a South American style that this team is known for playing? Saturday night the answer was yes.
The 5 Stripes played to the caliber the supporters have been waiting to see all season. They looked like the MLS Championship side that are a threat to take 3 points every game.
If de Boer is feeling the pressure from ghosts of clubs past (Inter and Palace), his response on Saturday night is definitely encouraging. ATLUTD supporters will see if this performance was an aberration or a sign of things to come next week as they take on Dallas FC at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
MLS Matchweek 7 Game OddsAs always, home team is listed first. If you need a refresher, visit how to bet MLS or how to bet soccer. All listed odds from April 10 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ.
|Wednesday, April 10|
|Colorado Rapids +194||Draw +240||Seattle Sounders +140|
|Friday, April 12|
|Chicago Fire -145||Draw +320||Vancouver Whitecaps +350|
|Saturday, April 13|
|Montreal Impact +115||Draw +250||Columbus Crew +220|
|Houston Dynamo -180||Draw +350||San Jose Earthquakes +440|
|Seattle Sounders -120||Draw +270||Toronto FC +320|
|Minnesota United -115||Draw +280||New York City FC +280|
|New England Revolution +145||Draw +240||Atlanta United +180|
|FC Dallas -155||Draw +310||Portland Timbers +390|
|Colorado Rapids +185||Draw +250||D.C. United +140|
|Real Salt Lake -115||Draw +280||Orlando City +280|
|Los Angeles FC -270||Draw +410||FC Cincinnati +650|
|LA Galaxy -105||Draw +280||Philadelphia Union +250|
|Sunday, April 14|
|Sporting KC +100||Draw +270||New York Red Bulls +250|
Odds and Ends
- In our marquee match-up, Sporting KC (+100) vs New York Red Bulls (+250) battle it out in Sporting’s backyard. Looking at both teams the past weekend, Sporting is coming off a tie away against FC Cincinnati (not to mention their tough loss in CCL) while the Red Bulls come off a loss at home to Minnesota United where the Red Bulls were seen to be struggling. In fact, the Red Bulls have only picked up 4 points in their last 5 matches. Pretty tragic so far. BUT, can anyone remember 2016 when Red Bulls were 1-and-6 and then ended up winning the Eastern Conference? We wouldn’t count them out just yet. Both teams need the points — for morale and conference standings.
- The match of the weekend in terms of current conference standing goes to Seattle Sounders (-120) vs Toronto FC (+320). With Sounders coming off a win at home while Toronto FC struggled for a tie at home last weekend against Chicago Fire, who currently sit at the bottom half of the table of the Eastern Conference, it’s easy to see why Sounders are the favorites. With all this being said, both teams sit in one of the top 3 spots in their conference…if I were Toronto, I’d be a bit offended by the value they were given. Toronto at +320 deserves a longer look.
- A value play worth taking a look at is Minnesota FC (-115) vs New York City FC (+280). Currently, Minnesota have accumulated the most away points (9 points) out of any MLS team in 2019. On top of that, they are about to play in their new home stadium for the very first time. Meanwhile, New York City FC are sitting second to last in the Eastern Conference which makes sense considering they’re currently without a win in their first 5 matches and can’t seem to score (statistics show that they’re averaging LESS than a goal per game). With all this being said, a value favorite is Minnesota FC.
- Another match to look out for is Atlanta United (+180) vs New England Revolution (+145). Both teams are sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. It’s still quite early to make a judgement call based on standings but, needless to say, both teams need a win. ATL UTD are returning fresh after a weekend off while New England are returning home after coming off a loss away at Columbus Crew.
You know that saying about history repeating itself?
If you’re an Atlanta United fan who wants to take a spork to your eyeballs this season as you watch your once dynamic and exciting team be the exact opposite of dynamic and exciting, this Tactics Explained video on Frank de Boer‘s struggles at Crystal Palace will not make you feel better.
You can simply replace a lot of “Crystal Palace” with “Atlanta United” and some player names and it’s the exact same video.
Gotta score to win
FdB’s post-Ajax teams have all had problems putting the ball in the back of the net. While I’m not a scientist or mathematician, last I checked the best way to win at soccer is by tallying more goals than your opponent.
Frank de Boer’s recent teams don’t do this.
You could over-simplify this issue by saying, “Makes sense, he was a center-back, and is more concerned about building from the back, backline organization and solid defensive tactics.” Ooooorrrrr… you could say that he’s married to a style of possession and play that’s outdated and he’s unwilling to adapt his unsuccessfully philosophies to his successful personnel.
Atlanta United was a well-oiled goal scoring machine last year.
In exactly zero MLS games this season have the Five Stripes produced more shot-based xG than their opponent. They have produced more non-shot xGs in two of their games, meaning their movement around their opponent’s penalty area should be creating scoring opportunities, but there’s a disconnect between their movement and forward-progression to shots on goal. It’s a small sample size, and maybe Miguel Almirón’s departure and skill-set are part of the reason for that disconnect.
But! If you go back to de Boer’s time at Palace and Inter, the same bottomline problems existed. His teams don’t score when he’s there, and then do score more the rest of the season when he leaves.
|Inter w/ FdB||Inter post-FdB||Palace w/ FdB||Palace post-FdB|
|GPG Avg: .84||GPG Avg: 2.18||GPG Avg: 0||GPG Avg: 1.3|
So how about ATLUTD this year compared to last year?
|ATL with Tata ’18 GPG||ATL with FdB ’19 GPG|
Ball don’t lie…
As we’ve written before, de Boer cheerleaders point to his time at Ajax as evidence that he’s a capable coach. However, Ajax will always be a dominant team in the Eredivisie. They’ve literally never finished lower than fifth IN THE HISTORY OF THE CLUB, and that’s only happened twice.
While there were certainly higher-level issues at Inter, the team improved from 12th to 7th in Serie A after FdB was sacked (in 85 days). In the four (!!!) Premier League games he coached before getting sacked at Crystal Palace, his team scored exactly zero goals. They improved from 20th (last) in the Premier League table to 11th by season’s end.
Atlanta United is currently last in the Eastern Conference table.
The lack of an offense and overall results are more than just a trend. This is who Frank de Boer is as a coach.
Ugly. Not pleasant on the eyes. Slow. Sloppy.
All of those words fit the Columbus Crew‘s Mapfre Stadium on Saturday night—-aaaand Atlanta United under manager Frank de Boer.
In about the worst weather conditions you’ll ever see for a professional sports event, which included an almost hour-long delay after lighting struck nearby, Atlanta United suffered a 2-0 defeat to the Columbus Crew.
There’s an old saying about excuses…
While players on each side expressed disbelief that the match was allowed to continue given the state of the field, both teams faced the exact same conditions. One team prevailed.
Columbus scored their first goal in the second minute due to an Atlanta defensive breakdown before weather became a real factor. Given the time FdB finally had to work with his squad during the international break and further implement his system, that opening two minutes was as bad of a result the Five Stripes could’ve imaged. The breakdown speaks loudly towards the mental state of this team under their new manager.
You are what your record says you are
As we wrote after the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appointment at Manchester United, you are what your record says you are.
Even so, an ATL optimist would look at this match and note:
- Columbus was an unsustainable 2 for 2 converting shots on goal in the first 39 minutes
- Atlanta held a slight possession advantage (54% – 46%)
- Atlanta significantly outshot their opponent 16 (5 on target) to 8 (3 on target)
A realist would look at the match (and season) though and note:
- They lost
- They’re winless in the MLS
- They’ve literally scored 2 goals in four MLS matches this season
- This is starting to look an awful lot like FdB’s stints at Crystal Palace and Inter
- Actually scratch that, this looks exactly like FdB’s stints at Crystal Palace and Inter
- They’ve out-possessed every MLS team they’ve played this season, often by large margins
- That possession isn’t created substantive scoring opportunities, because…
- …their 2.5 xGF ranks LAST in the MLS after ranking FIRST last year
- They’re LAST in the MLS Eastern table after winning the 2018 MLS Cup
This likely isn’t getting better.
Atlanta’s roster is almost double in value to the next closest MLS team (LAFC). The talent is there to do better.
This is on the manager. This is on de Boer.
Here’s an updated look at FdB’s career managerial record:
|Ajax||6 December 2010||11 May 2016||262||158||57||47||60.3|
|Inter||9 August 2016||1 November 2016||14||5||2||7||35.7|
|Crystal Palace||26 June 2017||11 September 2017||5||1||0||4||20.0|
|Atlanta United||23 December 2018||Present (includes CONCACAF CL)||8||2||2||4||25.0|
Ajax hasn’t finished lower than 4th in the Eredivisie during the 21st century. Not to diminish de Boer’s record or achievement while there, but even Frank de Boer this guy could get Ajax consistently near the top of the Eredivisie table. Ajax always brings in young talent, and they develop that talent as good as anyone in the world.
Look past Ajax, and FdB at ATL is perfectly consistent with his previous jobs: few goals and few victories.
De Boer’s style of possession and play is a relic of soccer from 10 years ago. With apologies to Atlético Madrid, the game has changed and evolved into mostly a counter-attacking, shape-shifting style. As Dirty South Soccer accurately pointed out, this was key to the Five Stripes success.
Barring a metamorphosis by de Boer, it’s not going to get better for Atlanta United. There’s no shame in moving on from a mistake as soon as you realize you’ve made one. This isn’t working. It’s not going to work. Better to rip the band-aid off now than suffer through a season languishing at the bottom of the table. The talent is there. The tactics are not. Time for ATL to move on from Frank de Boer.