If you don’t pay attention to the Eastern Conference, you may be surprised to hear that the team that won the MLS Cup last year (Atlanta United FC) is now sitting at the bottom, much like our beloved Colorado Rapids. We talked with Sydney Hunte of Dirty South Soccer ahead of the the match this weekend to find out what’s going on over there and how the Rapids just might be able to get three points.
Burgundy Wave: This is not the ATLUD team we are used to seeing and most people point at two things: the loss of Miguel Almiron and the loss of Tata Martino. Which do you think has been more significant?
Dirty South Soccer: I think that both are in a sense equally significant, but at the end of the day I would say that Almiron’s departure probably gets the edge. Whenever Almiron stepped on the field and really got going, he could change the face of a match - whether it was his innate ability to combine in the attack with Josef Martinez, his speed with the ball or his defensive work rate. Newcastle certainly gained a terrific player when it acquired him over the MLS offseason, and it’s easy to see how much Atlanta misses him as its No. 10. I think the adjustment to Frank de Boer and his way of doing things is part of it as well, but I think losing Almiron has hurt this team a little more than we all feared.
BW: I’ve seen calls for de Boer’s head already - does he just need time to settle in or is this justified?
DSS: So I’ve brought this subject up on Twitter, but I’ll try to sum it up here (hopefully a little better here than I did on Twitter!). Sports can be a very emotional thing, and when a team struggles, I think the tendency is to find a scapegoat — and I think that’s what’s happening here. It’s very premature to call for de Boer’s firing; I’m in favor of giving him at least an entire season and then going on from there.
The big question Darren Eales and the front office would have to answer if it did fire de Boer is who’d they hire to take his place. It would also set a dangerous precedent: the front office would give itself a reputation of having a quick hook while immediately shifting the pressure on their next hire, and that’s not how Eales and company operate. That’s not to absolve de Boer of all responsibility, but I will give him this: he’s shown, at least to some extent, a little more willingness than he did earlier in the year to work with the tools he has rather than force square pegs into round holes - part of what got him fired at Inter and Crystal Palace. (He’s still coming along in this regard, but he’s getting there)
BW: Both teams are obviously looking for a win this weekend. How do the Rapids get a win against Atlanta?
DSS: I think the trick is to apply pressure to a back line that’s taken its lumps over the first portion of the season. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez has had a great first two seasons in MLS, but has struggled with form. Brek Shea, who was picked up in the offseason, hasn’t stood out defensively and can be exploited. Also, push for an early goal and make Atlanta chase the game.
In its last two losses to Columbus and FC Dallas, Atlanta have conceded in the 2nd and 6th minute, respectively. I think if Colorado can get on the board early, it can control the flow of the match and really strike a blow to a Five Stripes side that is hoping to gain some confidence and string a few wins together over the next month or so.