Just six days after Atlanta United’s unforgettable, record-breaking 2018 home opener, the red, black and gold will be back at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday to host the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Five Stripes lost 3-1 to the ‘Caps on the road in Vancouver last season, and will be hoping to return the favor this time around as they host the 2017 Western Conference semifinalists for the first time ever. Ahead of this weekend’s match, we broke down the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot:
There’s a reason Atlanta United players were asked about Vancouver’s set piece threat all week by the media, as the Whitecaps have some of the most dangerous aerial threats in the league lining up on their side of the ball. That was the difference in last year’s matchup, when Vancouver scored all three of their goals from corner kicks. Two of them came from center back Kendall Waston, one of the most dangerous players in the league on set pieces. And the team only got stronger in the air, adding 6’ 3” striker Kei Kamara in the offseason, one of the most dangerous goal scorers MLS has ever seen. ATL UTD’s players have said it’ll be important to stay aggressive and disciplined on their defensive assignments, and they will look to limit unnecessary fouls to keep the set piece chances to a minimum.
Vancouver has a strong, powerful center back pairing in Waston and Aaron Maund, and they like to sit back deep and absorb pressure. Much like D.C. United, they’re comfortable defending while their opponent is in possession, and they can be hard to get around when they have time to set themselves up. But Atlanta United showed the blueprint last week against D.C. United: capitalize on turnovers to spring quick counter-attacks. Atlanta’s first two goals last week both came from Atlanta hitting the D.C. defense with speed before they could set up, and that could be the best way to break open Vancouver’s stubborn back line. Scoring an early goal could force them to come out of their shell, making them more vulnerable and exposed for the rest of the match.
Vancouver isn’t just height, they have plenty of speed on the roster as well, with Yordy Reyna and 17-year-old Homegrown winger Alphonso Davies bringing plenty of pace to the Whitecaps attack. That is often the team’s strategy: sit back, absorb pressure, then spring their speedy youngsters on the counter. It’s an effective strategy on the road, especially against teams who like to dominate possession. Atlanta United was successful against D.C., staying disciplined and not pushing too many players forward, preventing the opponent from countering with pace. They will have to keep their defensive shape once again as they host a team with a similar strategy in transition.
Follow the Match: Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on FOX Sports South and streamed on FOX Sports GO. You can listen to the game on the Atlanta United app or through one of our radio partners: WAOK 1380 AM or, for Spanish-speaking listeners, La Mejor Atlanta. Click here for a full rundown of how to follow along with the game. Topics: Atlanta United