It seems very strange to finally be playing expansion side Atlanta United FC in mid-September of their inaugural season. The new kids opened up their brand new stadium with a dominant win over FC Dallas and now it’s up to the New England Revolution to crash the party and really put themselves back into the East playoff race.
In order to do that, the Revs will have to beat a few familar faces in Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz as well as that group of attackers that score like 5 goals a game or so it seems.
We chat with Haris Kruskic of Dirty South Soccer to once again figure out what it’s like having a brand new stadium and just how good Atlanta is at scoring goals. Be sure to check out my answers to Haris’ questions over on their site.
TBM: Okay...let's get the painful stuff out of the way first. Please gush about how awesome your new stadium is while I go over here and throw things.
HK: I really don't want to brag because I do genuinely feel for the Revs' stadium situation. You guys deserve better. But yes, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is wonderful. I was curious to see how a soccer match would feel inside a massive stadium. When we played at Bobby Dodd, it was an intimate atmosphere and the supporters were right on top of the action. MBS is different, the sections in the stadium are so long. However, the closed roof made the atmosphere even louder on Sunday and that's not something I expected for a bigger facility.
The architects and front office really did keep soccer in mind by creating a field that could turn into a FIFA-sanctioned pitch. You really wouldn't notice a football team plays at this stadium because of how detail-oriented they were while making it(again, I'm sorry). I think MBS will do just fine as Atlanta's home.
TBM: Atlanta's currently 6th in the East on points, but that's misleading because of games in hand. How is Atlanta looking for the playoffs and would you say they've won just one game in five or just lost one of their last five based on recent form?
HK: Atlanta is putting themselves in a position to not only clinch a playoff spot, but to contend for the MLS Cup. I know that's bold to say with nine matches left in the regular season, but if they can ride the momentum they have going right now, I see no reason why they couldn't compete with the likes of Toronto and NYCFC in the East. In any sport, a team that gets hot late in the regular season is a good bet to make noise in the post-season. Why not Atlanta?
Now to answer the second half of your question, I'll have to take a completely different tone. Atlanta has won just one game in five rather than lost just one in their last five. I get that MLS is a different animal than other leagues, but there's no reason why we shouldn't have beaten D.C. United and Philadelphia. We played really poorly against two really poor sides. I can sort of excuse them for the 1-1 draw at home against Orlando because it's a "rivalry match" and you never know when Kaka is going to light you up from 30 yards out, and the draw away to Kansas City was actually a good result. I just look back at those two matches against D.C. and Philly and think we could, and honestly should, be 4th in the East standings. Hindsight isn't good for my health.
TBM: Atlanta scores goals. A lot of goals, who's the most important player in the ATL attack and how would you game plan to slow that player down.
HK: Josef Martinez. Miguel Almiron is great, don't get me wrong. However, when Martinez is in form, he's a cheat code. Ten goals in nine matches started, and the way he's scored some of those goals is just unfair. If Atlanta wants to make a playoff run, Martinez has to stay healthy. He's so dynamic of a player. His intelligence off the ball and making runs to not only put himself in good positions, but others as well, is amazing to watch.
No one has really stopped Martinez this season other than his own leg, but if New England bunkers down and puts eleven men behind the ball, Atlanta haven't found an answer for that all season. There's a reason we've lost to D.C. United three times. It's not sexy soccer, but it's efficient at slowing down Atlanta's attack and ultimately Martinez as well.
Garza, Pirez, Parkhurst, Walkes
Carmona, Larentowicz, Almiron
Asad, Villalba, Martinez
Injuries: Kenwyne Jones, Alec Kann, Zach Loyd
Prediction: 2-1 Atlanta