Tools to the Match: How ATL UTD can stop Seattle

Atlanta United (12-4-4) are looking to keep their lead at the top of the Eastern Conference as they host the Seattle Sounders (4-9-4) in Atlanta for the first time in their history on Sunday. Their only other meeting ended in a tense draw in Seattle early in the Five Stripes’ inaugural season, and while the Sounders are lower in the table than we’re used to seeing, they still always pose a threat. With more than 70,000 fans packed into Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it’s one you won’t want to miss.

Ahead of this Sunday’s game, we broke down the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot.

Laser in on Lodeiro

The Sounders have struggled to score goals this year, which is why they brought in Peruvian striker Raúl Ruidíaz to lead their front line. But with the striker’s status uncertain for this weekend, it will still be up to Uruguayan midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro to be the main creator in the attacking third for Seattle.

Still one of the most gifted attackers in MLS, Lodeiro boasts speed, technical skill on the ball, an eye for the killer pass and a vicious left-footed shot that is capable of beating any defense. He will be the main focus of the Atlanta United defense and midfield and the Sounders’ primary option to create a game-changing moment. The Five Stripes will need to limit his time and space on the ball and avoid letting Lodeiro find one-on-one opportunities against their defense. Shutting down Lodeiro will go a long way toward keeping a second consecutive clean sheet.

Overwhelm the Middle

As is often the case, whoever wins the midfield battle will have a huge upper hand in Sunday’s match, and Seattle’s core may be their strongest area of the field. Joining Lodeiro in the middle of the park are Cristian Roldan and Jordy Delem, two players that will be given the job of breaking up Atlanta’s attacking flow. Both are athletic and powerful, with the tactical discipline to form a strong wall in front of the Sounders’ back line. Atlanta United plays with one of the quickest passing styles in the league, and they’ll need to do just that to not allow Seattle’s two midfield destroyers a moment’s rest. With Josef Martinez pulling back into the midfield to receive the ball and combining with overlapping runs and movement from the midfielders and fullbacks, the Five Stripes can outnumber the Sounders in the center and overwhelm them to create attacking opportunities.

Stick to the Plan

Seattle’s place in the standings is largely down to their inability so far this season to consistently score goals. And, like many teams that have come to Mercedes-Benz Stadium this year, they could pack their defense to keep the Atlanta United attack stagnant. So it will be important for Atlanta United to stay patient both on the attacking and defensive ends. The Five Stripes will play their signature attacking style, but pushing too far forward could leave vulnerabilities at the back on the counter attack. And patience on defense is just as important –– the red, black & gold can press as usual but need to avoid being overly aggressive and conceding a penalty or a set piece in dangerous positions. In short: make the Sounders beat you from open play, where they’ve struggled to create chances so far this year. And if Seattle packs it in on defense, stick to the gameplan, be patient and the chances will come.

Follow the Match:

Kickoff is set for 2:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, with the match set to be broadcast on FOX 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.