New York City FC are back in action with a midweek meeting against Atlanta United.
For this edition of 'The Away End' presented by Berkeley College & Rennert International, we spoke to Kevin Egan, the TV PXP voice for Atlanta United, as well as a CNN International and SiriusXM FC host.
Hi Kevin, thanks so much for speaking with us, how long have you been working for Atlanta United?
Delighted to be chatting with you guys. So in 2017, Atlanta’s debut campaign, I was asked to be a fill-in guy for 5 games at the beginning because their PxP commentator was busy elsewhere. Thankfully it went well and I got a shout for the following season. I’ve somehow managed to stick around since! Lucky boy.
What’s been your favorite moment covering the team?
MLS Cup in 2018! An electric atmosphere as 72,000 Atlanta fans witnessed history! I’d also say a consistent highlight is interacting with the 17s, ATLUTD’s brilliant fan base. They’ve been so welcoming to me and my family.
Looking at the 2021 season, the team has a new coach in Gabriel Heinze and a number of new arrivals. How have things been during the early days of the Heinze era?
Things have been a little up and down, but that was absolutely expected. Heinze is an incredibly detail-oriented coach, and with a short preseason before CCL, he probably hasn’t had the time he would’ve liked to work with the guys day in and day out on the training pitch. That said, we’ve seen some exhilarating football that has me excited for what’s to come. Heinze is all in on his way of playing, and I know that commitment to his approach is appreciated by the players. I expect the club to make a few moves in the transfer market, and to be honest I really feel this group will make some noise in the playoffs.
We know Atlanta for its fantastic soccer culture, and vibrant home games at Mercedes-Benz Arena. Can you explain what makes the city’s soccer scene so special?
Atlanta’s always had a great love for soccer. It’s been bubbling for decades, with support for previous teams like the Chiefs, and more recently The Silverbacks. Several factors came together to ensure that Atlanta United was an instant hit in the city. First and foremost I’d say Arthur Blank’s commitment to community won over folks here. Whether it was financial investment or sheer emotional investment, it was very evident from day one that Mr Blank was all in. Atlanta’s also quite a transient city, with transplants like myself moving for work. It meant that many people saw an opportunity to support a brand new team, enjoy the ride, and essentially join a new family.
From a tactical standpoint, what strengths should Ronny Deila and his team be wary of heading into the game?
Much depends on Heinze’s team selection. With no Emerson Hyndman and Josef Martinez, I wonder will he be tempted to push Santiago Sosa further forward, and maybe add DP Alan Franco to the starting mix. Either way, expect intensity. Expect Atlanta to move the ball quickly, with constant width via fullbacks or wingers. And expect Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno to be the keys to unlocking NYCFC. Goals have been hard to come by, so I’d also hope to see a real commitment from Atlanta’s attacking midfielders to put themselves in dangerous positions. That hasn’t always been the case this season.
Are there any weaknesses you think NYCFC can exploit?
Atlanta’s defense in open play has been excellent for most of the season, but there have been lapses that may concern Heinze from recent games, partly due to what seems to be a man-on-man defensive approach in certain moments. We saw Philly throw numbers forward and find open spaces to get shots off. Communication and awareness needs to be near perfect in these sequences, and that hasn’t been the case, as Atlanta have given up 2-0 leads in back-to-back games at home. On the other end, they’re still waiting for the attack to fully click. That’s hard with no Josef Martinez for this match. Atlanta have only had multi-goal matches in 3 of 12 outings this season. That’s clearly not good enough.
If you were to identify Atlanta’s danger-man, who would that be?
For me it’s Barco. He has his critics, but there’s no denying Atlanta United are a far more dynamic and dangerous outfit with him on the field. He’s such a forward-thinking player, always willing to take chances and also make defenders commit. He frees up spaces for others. I’d also say that Atlanta’s fullbacks are more dangerous than ever. Watch out for both Brooks Lennon and George Bello.
And finally, for any fans thinking of making the trip to Atlanta are there any particular attractions you’d suggest they check out?
Mercedes-Benz Stadium! A packed house with 72,000 fans in football heaven! An MLS experience to savor.
Next up for New York City FC is a meeting with Atlanta United on Wednesday, June 23, at Red Bull Arena with kickoff taking place at 7:30PM ET (YES App/NYCFC.com/Radio).