New York City FC continue their 2021 MLS campaign with a meeting against Atlanta United.
Here’s the Keys to the Match, presented by Tri-State Ford…
Sosa The Conductor
When Gabriel Heinze was appointed head coach of Atlanta United in December a lot was said about his desire to press the opposition and transition quickly.
In reality, a central tenant of Atlanta’s play this season has been building out from the back into through the lines and the final third. This is evidenced by the fact no team in MLS has played more passes in their own half than Atlanta this season.
One player that has been central to Heinze’s strategy is Santiago Sosa. A midfielder by trade, this season the 22-year-old has played as both a number six in a 4-3-3 formation and a center-back in a back three.
The main objective of his role when in possession is to bring the ball out of the back and help stitch together Atlanta’s defence and attack. When defending, he uses his positional intelligence and reading of the game to try and stop opposition attacks.
He covers a lot of ground for Atlanta, and that can see him tire late in games. Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old leads the team for passes attempted this season, and is third when it comes to pass accuracy.
For that reason, it’s important that New York City FC limit Sosa’s time and space on the ball in midfield. We saw Bruce Arena enact a shrewd strategy when his New England Revolution side faced Atlanta in early May.
By having Carles Gil and Adam Buksa man-mark Sosa, Arena pinned the Argentine in his own half and forced him to largely move the ball short to defenders Anton Walkes and Alan Franco.
Regardless of whether Heinze uses a back three or a 4-3-3 formation one thing will remain the same – NYCFC will need to disrupt Sosa’s rhythm.
Get Beyond Taty
One of the major positives from Taty Castellanos’ performance on Saturday night was his hold-up play. The striker is very good at bringing teammates into the game and serving as a focal point for NYCFC in the final third.
City’s penalty on Saturday was a direct consequence of Castellanos dummying the ball and allowing Jesús Medina to run in behind. This also gave a small window into how NYCFC can be a greater danger when being direct.
When Castellanos comes deep to collect the ball and is followed by an opposition defender it leaves a space in behind. It is important that the midfielders use this as a cue to exploit that gap.
As we saw against New England Thiago Andrade has an impressive turn of speed, as does Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. Along with Medina, Maxi Moralez and even Keaton Parks, they should seize the chance to give NYCFC a different option in attack, especially if Atlanta chooses to push high.
Leading on nicely from our last point, Atlanta have shown they can be caught on the break this season.
This is best evidenced during two games against the Philadelphia Union. When the pair met in CONCACAF Champions League earlier this season, two of the Union’s three goals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium came via counter-attacks.
The first, in the 73rd minute, can be seen here at 1:58 while the second goal is at 2:59 in the 86th minute.
If we fast forward a few months to Sunday we can see as early as the 17th minute Atlanta struggling to defend Philly’s offensive transition.
As the clip below illustrates, the Union create a great chance thanks to a simple move from back to front involving four passes. What the clip doesn’t show is that the chance comes after an Atlanta attack breaks down.
In less than 30 seconds the ball is with Alejandro Bedoya in the left-back spot and Philly have a 4v4 opportunity that leads to a shot on goal. We’ve talked previously about NYCFC’s ability to be dangerous on the counter, and a meeting with Atlanta could be the perfect time to remind people of that.
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).