Today is the day. Major League Soccer is finally back and the Houston Dynamo are back in action as they’re up against Atlanta United FC to start the season off. Last year the Dynamo made it to the Western Conference Finals and while many seem to have written the Dynamo off to replicate that success, the club will want to start things strong against a pretty tough opponent in Atlanta United.
In our preview of the match we discussed some lineup possibilities and ways the Dynamo can break down Atlanta, but we wanted an inside perspective on our opponents so we spoke with Haris Kruskic at Dirty South Soccer to get some insight about his club.
Dynamo Theory: Finishing 4th overall last season, but crashing out in the knockout round of the MLS Cup playoffs, what offseason moves did Atlanta make to push them to the next level?
Dirty South Soccer: The biggest issue Atlanta had last season was depth. Our starting XI was great, but due to our condensed schedule during the second half of the campaign, we struggled keeping the same lineup fresh and injury-free and that showed as the team finished winless in their last five matches of the season.
With the additions of Ezequiel Barco, Darlington Nagbe, and the emergence of younger players like Andrew Carleton, Brandon Vazquez, and Romario Williams who are expected to see more playing time than last season, that problem seems to have been relieved a good amount. It’s still not perfect, but it’ll do for now.
DT: What are realistic expectations about how far Atlanta United FC can go in their sophomore year in MLS?
DSS: Well, a couple different superbooks in Las Vegas give us the second best odds to win the Cup. Honestly, I really don’t think that’s out of the question. Toronto should still be the favorite and the Eastern Conference looks really good this year with NYCFC, the Red Bulls, and Orlando all making quality changes to their squad over the offseason.
Considering the amount of money Atlanta spent on transfers (a reported $15 million on Barco and $1.5 million on Nagbe), I would say anything short of a trip to the conference finals would be a disappointment. However, if Atlanta can stay healthy and add one or two more quality depth players, I like our odds to make a run for the Cup.
DT: For someone that hasn’t watched of Atlanta United this preseason, how would you describe their style of play and who are some names to look for during the game?
DSS: Atlanta is one of, if not the most attack-minded club in MLS. Fullbacks Franco Escobar and Greg Garza bomb upfield and overlap wingers Barco and Tito Villalba often. When they do so, holding mid Jeff Larentowicz drops back and creates a three-man backline with Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez to create a bit of a 3-4-3/3-5-2 formation. They’re very possession oriented and use their pace to create opportunities.
If there is one weakness that Houston can exploit, it’s catching Atlanta on the counter. Since AU does get so high upfield, they eventually lose possession and teams take advantage of our fullbacks being out of position.
Everyone is talking about Barco. So much is expected from the most expensive player in MLS history, as it should be. He showed flashes of brilliance during the preseason. Atlanta’s just hoping the 18-year-old can consistently put in quality showings. Also, look out for Carleton. The U.S. U17 player may just make his second ever MLS appearance. If so, both will have oddly enough come against the Dynamo.
Projected Lineup: (4-3-3)
Guzan, Garza, Parkhurst, Pirez, Escobar, Larentowicz, Nagbe, Almiron, Gressel, Villalba, Martinez
For my answers to Haris’s excellent questions, please check them out at Dirty South Soccer!