Atlanta United takes on the crucial second leg of their West Coast road trip on Wednesday as they travel to California to take on the Earthquakes. San Jose are at the bottom of the standings and out of the playoff hunt, but with every point vital for Atlanta United in their quest for the Supporters’ Shield, the Five Stripes need to maintain focus and secure a win to extend their lead over the Red Bulls at the top of the standings.
Ahead of the crucial mid-week match, we broke down the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot:
Watch out for Wondo
There’s a reason Chris Wondolowski is just three goals off the all-time record for goals scored in a career in MLS. And with San Jose not having much left to play for this season, they will be eager to get Wondolowski over the line for a historic 146th career goal. The former U.S. international is exceptional with his runs finding space in the box, and has a veteran head to finish when the ball finds his feet. His eight goals are impressive, but he also leads the team with five assists so far this year, so he’s equally adept at creating for others. It will be important –– especially if he comes on as a substitute in late-game situations –– to keep track of him in the box when the ball comes to Atlanta United’s attacking third. All he needs is a yard of space to turn a chance into a goal.
While Wondolowski is the team legend, it’s been two European imports that have led the San Jose offense so far this season. Dutch forward Danny Hoesen has scored more than a quarter of the Earthquakes’ goals this season, with a very respectable 11 so far this year. He has pace, technique and is capable of sending in a shot from distance, so Atlanta United have to be sure to keep pressure on him and not allow him to space behind the back line. And when the San Jose attack is really ticking, Georgia native (the country, not the state) Valeri Kazaishvili is often at the heart of it. His nine goals and 4 assists are a solid return for a midfielder, and he will be the one looking to pull the strings behind the forward line. He’s another player that Atlanta United will have to focus on to limit his time on the ball and prevent him from finding pockets of space in between the defense and midfield where he does the most damage on the ball.
Get at ‘em early
The ‘Quakes’ achilles heel so far this season has been their defense, with their 57 goals allowed the third-most in Major League soccer this year. That means there will be vulnerabilities at the back for Atlanta United to exploit, and the earlier they do the better. Starting with high pressure and springing counter attacks early was effective against the Rapids –– it put the match out of sight early and allowed the Five Stripes to slow the game down and finish the win calmly for the second half. It not only made for a low-stress second half, it allowed Atlanta United to save their legs with more games on the horizon. With another crucial matchup against Real Salt Lake coming up in just three days, the earlier Atlanta United can put the game to bed the better.
Follow the Match:
Kickoff is set for 11:00 p.m. EST on Wednesday, with the match set to be broadcast on Unimás and streamed live on Twitter. 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.