How Gonzalo Pineda polished the attack and what it means for Atlanta United’s game with the New York Red Bulls
It’s hard to maintain optimism ahead of the disappointing result against Toronto, but Atlanta United fans should rejoice that the fate of the team after the season is still in their hands. There were some minor tweaks on Saturday to how we saw the Five Stripes play earlier in the season, and even earlier in Gonzalo Pineda’s tenure.
Here, let’s go over some of those adjustments and see how it could play out against the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday – a team that also needs a result to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Pineda has shown that he likes formations that don’t focus on winning in midfield. Instead, he prefers transitional domination behind the scenes and multiple creative outlets in the final third. Some of the downsides of this style were exposed in the game against Toronto; the most notable of which was the use of a single central striker. Because Josef Martinez wasn’t business as usual, he slowed down the pace of attack, ultimately killing what is normally Pineda’s primary scoring method.
Something that was slightly different from normal was the position license given to Marcelino Moreno and Ezequiel Barco. Moreno aligned in the no. 10th place – effectively leaving Matheus Rossetto as the only man in midfield for Atlanta – and Barco lined up as the left side reverse winger in a 3-4-3.
However, for much of the first half, both players started playing patterns from each other’s position. And then in order to confuse the defense, they crossed their races towards their “designated place”.
Here, look at the comparative positioning of Barco and Moreno. Barco is the square and Moreno is the circle.
They made much less use of the organic exchange in the second half, which in part helped make the Atlanta offense so uninspired late in the game.
We have established that Pineda does not hesitate to make offensive changes. And that’s a breath of fresh air in games where Atlanta is losing. But on Saturday Pineda released an exchange we haven’t really seen before. In the only change, Jake Mulraney replaces Moreno, initially giving the impression that he would slip into Barco or Luiz Araujo’s space and one of them would operate in the center the rest of the match.
Instead, Mulraney’s change was comparable. And positionally, Mulraney played a more rigid style in the no. 10 than Moreno, but he ended up near Martinez more often. In the end, Pineda got what he wanted from the change: someone to play in the 18-yard box alongside Martinez, but Rossetto was far too tired to step in in transition when his midfielder partner was so far disjointed.
Here, watch how deep Moreno is when he first touches the ball.
Here, notice how Mulraney is the most advanced man when he receives the ball.
In terms of pitch spacing, the Red Bulls will do the exact opposite of Atlanta. In their roster – head coach Gerhard Struber recently preferred a 3-4-3 and often moves it to a 4-4-2 mid-game – New York will engulf the midfield as much as possible and instead let the fullbacks operate with only one autonomy across the width.
Here, watch how narrow New York’s top three are and how isolated right-back Kyle Duncan is during a counterattack.
Wingers play more like second attackers to a main attacker, and they rely on direct play. The Red Bulls made the third fewest changes in MLS this season, while Atlanta made the third. This highlights the difference in approaches to passive play.
Either team can win on this day, and those styles complement each other well, but both teams struggled this weekend to build momentum in the final third. New York fell back to a 90 + 1 winner over Montreal while registering eight shots into the opposing 18-yard box.
It’s best to hope for a game where the wide Atlanta players expose New York’s lone wingers and the Five Stripes dominate the creative output, but you should probably expect a frustrating game where Atlanta has to consolidate their midfield and move the ball much slower than we’ve seen recently. .