The soccer news starts with the obvious issue for Atlanta United. So far in 2019, it's not working. Atlanta split the points at home with Philadelphia in a 1-1 draw that required a comeback. This isn't the Atlanta we knew from 2018, adding pressure to a transition that was never likely to be easy.
“I feel like we were finding some problems to really find our free man," Atlanta coach Frank de Boer said. "Because (Philadelphia) was very organized, we couldn’t keep our man in the midfield free. So, the first 40 minutes wasn’t the type of play that we wanted to see. After that, we went to 4-4-2, we got more into the game. Directly after, Josef Martinez had a good chance when he hit the crossbar. We got better in the game, and we also created more chances. We did it much better the second-half. I said to my team after the game that you all straightened your backs and tried to push forward. They Philadelphia didn’t play the four extra games during this period. Every three or four days, we’ve had a game. We are just missing the freshness to get a pass to the right man. We still made too many errors when it wasn’t necessary. I think the reason is mostly because of the freshness we are missing right now. Hopefully, after this international period, we can see a fresh United."
Whether or not this is the next example of the problem of the Concacaf Champions League is a fair question. Atlanta didn't get as far as Toronto did last season, but it's the same run of games impacting their MLS preparations. There were already enough issues for Atlanta to address without the scenarios and travel the Champions League represents.
Preparing a team to succeed in Concacaf isn't the same as getting ready for an MLS season. The best case scenario for the MLS teams involved in the Champions League is that it doesn't hamper their preparations for the regular season. That's not the kind of thing that moves the needle for Champions League excitement, but it's a more realistic look at what MLS teams face in a competition that starts in the offseason.
"Frustration is certainly there," Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. "That’s pretty obvious. Something isn’t clicking the way it did last year. That’s on us as a group to find that and figure it out. That’s part of it to a certain extend. We knew going into the season that it wasn’t going to be easy. So, we have to use these next two weeks to improve and make sure we are ready to go against Columbus."
Should that happen, it's not going to be just about De Boer and his players turning a corner. It's going to be another reminder from the reigning MLS champion about the real cost of preparing to compete in the Champions League.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution's Parker Johnson on United's formations against Philadelphia. SBI Soccer's Jeff Weisinger looks at another disappointment for the San Jose Earthquakes. The NY Times' Kevin Draper on the issues with the New England Revolution.
Felt great to be back in my house. Amazing atmosphere tonight! pic.twitter.com/KCfhJnuqor— Jozy Altidore (@JozyAltidore) March 18, 2019
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