This Saturday, Atlanta United returns to the friendly confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium as they host the league rookies from Los Angeles. Atlanta (3-1-0) is hoping to make it four consecutive victories and remain unbeaten at home while LAFC (2-1-0) is focused on bouncing back from a tough 4-3 loss to the Galaxy. This will mark the first-ever meeting between the two clubs, so make sure to tune in on ESPN at 5:00 p.m. EST.
Ahead of this weekend’s match, we broke down the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot:
1) Attack the Wingback Space
Just three matches into their inaugural season, LAFC’s back line has proven solid for a recently assembled unit and their wingbacks in particular have been heavily involved in their impressive attack. On the right, 2017 MLS Cup Champion Steven Beitashour consistently serves in dangerous balls, already recording three assists this year and up the left, SuperDraft selection Joao Moutinho is key in possession, adding skill, intelligence and a splash of Portuguese class. But with both players having the tendency to get forward, it often leaves the space behind them exposed, allowing opportunities for the opposition to counter quickly. Tata Martino’s Atlanta side will, as always, look to attack fast in transition and take advantage of the open wingback space left by Beitashour and Moutinho.
2) Cut Out Vela
Perhaps the most critical piece of the early expansion success on the field for LAFC, their first-ever DP Carlos Vela has grabbed the headlines just as expected. The Mexican international has seamlessly slotted in the number 10 role, finding pockets of space behind the front line and orchestrating nearly every black & gold attack. However, he’s not as energetic and agile as he used to be, and he’s a player that floats in space and lets the game come to him rather than seeking it out. Thriving on his skill with the ball and pristine passing ability, if Atlanta can focus on cutting off the supply to Vela, it will go a long way in minimizing the LAFC threat.
3) Contain the Speed
In addition to their wingback threats, in front of the defense lies a plethora of youth and speed. Former Sporting KC forward Latif Blessing brings pace, energy and a year of MLS experience at just 21 years of age. On the other side, 20-year-old Uruguayan international Diego Rossi has shown he can do it all with a combination of speed, skill and a nose for goal. He’s already put himself on the scoresheet three times and has four assists as well. Atlanta will need to make sure they don’t leave Blessing or Rossi alone with space to run at the back line in order to keep LAFC out of the net on Saturday.
Follow the Match:
Kickoff is set for 5:00 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on ESPN and streamed on WATCHESPN. You can listen to the game on the Atlanta United app or through one of our radio partners: 92.9 The Game or, for Spanish-speaking listeners, La Mejor Atlanta. Click here for a full rundown of how to follow along with the game.