Coming off a two-match homestand to begin the 2023 MLS Regular Season, Atlanta United heads up I-85 for its first road test of the year against Charlotte FC. Atlanta enters the match with four points after earning a come from behind 1-1 draw against Toronto FC, while Charlotte is still looking for its first points of the new campaign. Saturday’s meeting will mark the third all-time meeting between the two southern rivals. Last season, the home team was successful in each of the two meetings. With more than 1,000 Atlanta United season ticket members making the trip to support the team, Atlanta looks to establish itself near the top of the Eastern Conference table with another victory on Saturday. Let’s take a closer look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against Charlotte FC.
Winning Possession in Attacking Third and Converting into Quality Chances
One of Atlanta United’s offseason objectives was to make its counter press more effective than last season. Atlanta ranked in the bottom third of MLS in terms of winning possession in the attacking third last season. Through two matches, the team has made major strides in this statistical category. They have won possession back in the attacking third 16 times, which ranks them second in MLS, trailing only St. Louis CITY SC (18).
The next step for Gonzalo Pineda’s squad will be to convert those possession turnovers into higher quality chances. Brooks Lennon and Thiago Almada are tied for the team lead with five chances created through two matches. But only one of those chances has been categorized by Opta as a “big chance”, a clear-cut opportunity to put the ball in the back of the net. The team has continued to work on counter pressing and fine-tuning its attacking patterns in training. If they can win possession high up the pitch against Charlotte and convert those opportunities into goals, that would go a long way to bringing home three points on Saturday.
Manage The Crowd, Manage the Opponent
Saturday’s match will feature the teams with the two highest average attendance marks last year in MLS. Atlanta United ranked first once again with an average of 47,116, while newcomers Charlotte FC averaged 35,260. Another large crowd is expected at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday and Atlanta United will need to manage the crowd noise and find a rhythm quickly in its first road match of the year.
Charlotte’s new look attack has only produced one goal so far, but that goal was scored by new designated player Enzo Copetti. The Argentine was one of the bigger offseason moves in MLS, and his combination play with fellow DP Karol Swiderski was one of the positive signs for Charlotte in its most recent loss at St. Louis. Atlanta’s defense hasn’t given up a ton of chances in the first two matches, and they will look to keep their first clean sheet of 2023 on Saturday.
Win the Midfield Battle, Win the Match
Many soccer matches in MLS and across the world are won in midfield. Atlanta’s midfield trio has remained the same through the first two matches of the season in Franco Ibarra, Matheus Rossetto and Thiago Almada. Rossetto netted his first career MLS goal last weekend in the 1-1 draw with Toronto, while Almada is tied for second in the league with three goal contributions (two goals, one assist) this season. Ibarra has impressed as the more defensive midfielder, leading MLS with 24 duels won through two matches. That combination of grit, bite, the occasional hard tackle and creativity is one that Atlanta looks to keep going this weekend on the road. Winning the midfield battle Saturday will be key for Atlanta to pick up its first road win of the season.
Fans can tune in nationally on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app and on FOX Saturday afternoon at 12:00pm ET when the action kicks off at Bank of America Stadium. To hear the action on radio, tune into Sports Radio 92.9 The Game (English) or La Mejor – AM 1600 (Spanish).