Coming off a stunning 5-0 victory over expansion side LAFC, Atlanta United are looking for their fifth straight win this weekend. But the challenge only gets tougher as they host top-ranked, unbeaten NYCFC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday. The teams split the results last season, with each team winning 3-1 at their home venues, and Atlanta United will be looking to continue that trend at their home fortress in a top-of-the-table clash.
Ahead of this weekend’s match, we broke down the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot:
NYCFC’s creator-in-chief is Maxi Moralez, an Argentine #10 floating in the attacking side of Patrick Vieira’s midfield. Moralez is coming off one of his best performances in MLS so far, racking up a goal, an assist and eight key passes in their midweek demolition of RSL, becoming just the fourth player to reach those marks in one match since 2010. The playmaker is excellent at finding little pockets of space between opponents’ defensive midfield and back line, putting the opposition off balance and creating chances for his teammates. He’s a player Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst named specifically to reporters in the days leading up to the match.
“[Moralez] is definitely a guy that we have to make sure, like any #10 in this league, we get pressure on. The less time those guys have to pick up their heads, the easier it is for us to pick up Villa because his movement is so good.” Cutting off supply to Moralez, and smothering him once the ball gets to his foot, will go a long way to throwing a wrench into the NYCFC attacking machine.
Spread them Out
NYCFC’s home venue at Yankee Stadium in New York is one of the most narrow fields in the league, and they take full advantage by staying compact defensively and clogging up the opponents’ attack. Mercedes-Benz Stadium sits on the other side of the spectrum as one of the widest pitches in Major League Soccer.
Atlanta United has been one of the best teams in the league so far at utilizing the full width of the field, getting the ball into space for the attacking fullbacks in Tata Martino’s 3-5-2 formation. Julian Gressel has been one of the Five Stripes’ most consistently potent attacking threats so far this season just for that reason. Utilizing the full size of the field will make NYCFC feel far away from their friendly confines in the Bronx. It will allow Atlanta’s wide threats to run at the defense and give central playmakers like Miguel Almirón and Darlington Nagbe more space to work while unsettling the NYCFC defenders.
Containing Villa the Veteran
NYCFC’s offseason additions have made an impressive start to their MLS careers, but David Villa remains the star and soul of this team. After a lengthy injury absence, the Spanish legend made his return in the squad’s midweek match against RSL, and could feature for even longer against Atlanta United over the weekend. Villa has been one of the most lethal finishers in world soccer over the past decade, and only needs an inch to get a shot on Brad Guzan’s net. Parkhurst, Pirez and company did well to limit his chances in Villa’s last visit to Atlanta by staying close and physical with their mark, not allowing him a yard to get a shot on target. They’ll need that same level of focus to keep the 2016 MLS MVP off the scoresheet this weekend.
Follow the Match:
Kickoff is set for 6:00 p.m. EST Sunday and will be broadcast on FS1 and streamed on Fox Sports GO. 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.