Because Atlanta United is in the Eastern Conference and the Colorado Rapids are in the Western Conference, the two teams only meet once each year. In ATL’s inaugural season last year, the Rapids went to ATL and lost 1-0, so this time the Five Stripes are heading to Colorado for the first time to take on the Burgundy Boys at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Colin previewed ATLUD earlier this week, but we talked with Haris Kruskic of Dirty South Soccer to learn a little more.
Burgundy Wave: Considering Atlanta has clinched a playoff spot and the Rapids aren’t in their conference, how seriously do you think the club is taking this game?
Dirty South Soccer: Very seriously. There’s so much Atlanta still has to play for between the Supporters’ Shield, a CONCACAF Champions League spot, and a first-round bye in the playoffs. Tata Martino has made it clear that they’re chasing everything to the best of their ability. Taking advantage of our next two matches against poor Western Conference teams would go a long way for Atlanta to increase their lead in the East and subsequently their lead for the other titles and competition hopes.
BW: What will the Rapids need to do to have a chance at slowing down Atlanta’s red-hot offense?
DSS: Bunker and counter. A team like D.C. United seems to have figured this out to a tee, as they’ve won three of the five match-ups against Atlanta by doing exactly that. Essentially, the more unattractive (yet very effective) a team can make its playing style, the better it’ll do against Atlanta. Load the box, make Atlanta bomb in cross after cross, and then spring on the counter when given the opportunity.
BW: It sounds like Tata Martino’s future in Atlanta is up in the air - what impact would it have on the team if he decided to leave?
DSS: It would be pretty significant. For my money, Martino’s the best coach in MLS. A case can be made that because of Atlanta’s early successes with young South American players that other coaches of Martino’s ilk will be lining up for the job as well, but I think it’s always better to just keep what you have when it’s shown to be very effective. He already has a playing style in place and the team is on the brink of something great because of how he’s drawn them up. Martino’s impact on the initial roster makeup and setting up Atlanta for what it is today shouldn’t be overlooked.
Do you think he’s actually going to leave?
If I had to bet, I’d say no. It sounds like Martino might be using reported interest from the Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico national teams as leverage for certain demands he has during ongoing contract negotiations with Atlanta. From what I can tell, Martino is happy in Atlanta and I think the club’s front office will find a way to keep him around.
I also talked to Haris about Anthony Hudson’s first year as head coach, whether or not I think Kellyn Acosta be starting, and if Tim Howard is gearing up to retire at the end of this season. Read my responses over on Dirty South Soccer!