Remember when we said that the win against Orlando City SC was the biggest game The Miami FC’s history and had the biggest implications for soccer in this city? Well, we were a bit short sighted with regards to that statement. Tonight’s tilt against Atlanta United has usurped that title as Miami faces its toughest test yet.
Atlanta United comes into the match sitting sixth in the MLS table with 24 points (7-3-7), which is incredibly respectable for an expansion club in its first season. How has Atlanta gotten to this point? Their success revolves solely around their offensive firepower. Boasting dynamic players like Venezuelan international Josef Martinez, Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron, and the Lebanese-Argentinian Yamil Asad, these three have proven to be a thorn in the side of many opponents.
How good is Atlanta’s attack? Let the goal-scoring record speak for itself: 33 goals in 17 matches. This tops the MLS’s Eastern Conference which includes the likes of Chicago Fire (David Accam, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolic) and Toronto FC (Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco).
So how is possible that Atlanta has dropped so many points? That answer is the key to Miami’s success in this contest. Atlanta have given up 25 goals in these 17 contests and their backline can be considered average at best. Tied for third-worst in the east, the backline consists of journeymen MLS defenders and Leandro González Pirez, who could very well be Atlanta’s best defender. As we saw early on in Miami FC’s first run of games, the back four does take time to develop chemistry and become a formidable wall.
Manager Tata Martino — Yes, the one that carried Argentina to No. 1 in the World Rankings (without actually winning a significant trophy) — has managed this team well during its early existence. Yesterday he went on camera and stated “Miami probably has more MLS experience than we do at this point, at least in terms of the team we’re going to field. We’re going to play some of our guys with MLS experience and some of our young players. If it just comes down to MLS experience they might have more than us.” Easy to say that the gamesmanship between the two managers has already begun.
It’s also easy to state that Atlanta has a “lack of MLS experience” when their dynamic three at the top have played a combined 35 games (Almiron featuring in every one of the 17 games this season). This game has nothing to do about MLS experience.
Miami must capitalize on the lack of cohesion that Atlanta has on the backline. It’s important that Miami attempt to dissect Atlanta through the middle initially and if they are stifled, to allow Blake Smith and Hunter Freeman to whip in crosses much like against Orlando.
If Miami can withstand the initial pressure that Atlanta will certainly enforce and dictate the style of play, it should be smooth sailing for the Blues. Vincenzo Rennella, Poku, and Stéfano Pinho will have plenty of chances against this Atlanta United side and their recent run of form should allow them the confidence to defend their home turf.
My starting XI prediction for the match tonight is as follows:
Score prediction: Miami FC 3 – Atlanta United 2