For a team like Atlanta United, known for its intricate short-passing and counter attacks, it’s rare to see analysis like this of the performance from club president Darren Eales.
Calling the team’s style “hoofball” – a reference to a direct style of play centered around hitting long, aerial balls forward – is clearly tongue in cheek. But Atlanta did benefit from a style that was at times much more direct, especially on the first goal when goalkeeper Alec Kann’s long ball to Tito Villalba led to the goalkeeper’s first assist in his MLS career.
“I might have gotten one in the USL,” Kann said with a laugh after the game, “but someone might have to dig through the archives to see.”
Passing out of the back is always a strategy with high risk and high reward. But after an errant pass led to a sloppy goal a few weeks ago, Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said they’ve focused on mixing up their play to avoid costly mistakes in the back.
“We were disappointed in the goal in D.C we gave up,” Parkhurst said. “We just talked about being a little smarter. We said ‘hey let’s not give away anything, Columbus is too good of a team to gift a goal to.’ It’s not something that is our plan A. We still want to play out of the back, but we also want to have a plan B and it worked out tonight.”
“We scored really early and talked about playing a little more direct, not taking as many risks,” Kann said. “Especially early on, we knew they pressed really well in the preseason and did it pretty well in Atlanta. We have to adjust to other teams that we play and I think we did that to perfection today.”
Fans shouldn’t expect to see Atlanta abandon its slick passing style any time soon. But with Atlanta now on a streak of three hours of MLS play without conceding a goal – including allowing just one shot on target by Columbus on Saturday – it’s clearly a strategy that is paying off on the scoreboard.
“We played a serious game,” coach Tata Martino said through a translator after the game, “a solid game without many mistakes on our part. And then we were opportunists.”
“On the road, the results are going to be ugly if we win,” Kann said after the game, his second straight clean sheet. “It’s not a pretty game, but we played a lot of pretty game this year and not won or tied. Today was not pretty, but we got a 2-0 win which was a huge result for us.”
Atlanta will be hoping to keep that momentum going with a quick turnaround before their next game. They will be back in front of yet another sold-out crowd at Bobby Dodd Stadium Tuesday for a July 4th matchup against the San Jose Earthquakes, and a win would push the Five Stripes another spot up the Eastern Conference table into fourth place. Tickets are sold out, but the game will be broadcast on Fox Sports South. Click here for a full rundown of how you can tune in to the game.