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Breaking Down Atlanta United's Rotations

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

AP Photo/Alex Slitz

In Atlanta United's last game against Toronto FC there were a number of positive takeaways such as a good shot rate, lots of passes in the attacking half, and a ton of passes. None of these, however, were as important as Atlanta United's attacking rotations off of the ball. And one of the most impressive things about this is how fluidly they were carried out so that if you weren't intently watching you wouldn't have noticed them. They also had some very good outputs, especially in the first half. The best of which was an incisive through ball by Almada which saw Lennon get through on goal and force a good save out of Sean Johnson before the play was called back for offsides.

Looking Big Picture

To have some context for these movements we should first look at the big picture and watch the rotations in the attack, and see the results of the movement. This will help to understand the importance of the rotations and to provide a template for looking at the individual movements in the play as well as some other plays later. This is the play that resulted in Andrew Gutman getting off a shot in the 27th minute.

This is an important play to looking at the movements because it is simple and has the most important aspects in a very easily identifiable way. The ball is collected by Franco Ibarra after being cleared following a play on the right wing. This means that the field is lopsided with more players on the right. So then by stepping into the space in front of him Ibarra will draw a lot of the defenders this then allows him to pass it to Thiago Almada who is wide open (the video makes everyone look more pressured than they were) and then lay it off to the unmarked Gutman following a long run all the way from the back into the space between Toronto's fullback who is marking Wiley and their central players who were marking Ibarra and then Almada. This was a common theme of as the ball is moved players stepping into that open space, especially the space inside the triangle of the midfielder, fullback, and center back.


Breaking Down the Movements

The best way to fully understand the decisions and rotations in the attack is to look at each individual decision that caused these movements. In the last Andrew Gutman scenario the decisions are fairly clear and we mentioned them earlier, Ibarra stepping up to draw pressure, then Almada dropping back to receive the ball, and lastly Gutman racing up the field to expose poor positioning in the Toronto FC defense. Looking at a different example you should notice Almada way out on the left wing, Rossetto filling that 10 role, and everyone in an attacking line.

This is, while weird looking, purposeful and a movement that shows up multiple times throughout the match. The most important thing to think about when looking at these plays is how the ball moved. Almada brought the ball up the field and then out wider before passing up to Caleb Wiley. This drew multiple defenders as Almada is the most talented player on the field, take that Bernardeschi. So in response to the space created by Servania being pulled over and Laryea and Hedges moving with the ball to Caleb Wiley Rossetto moved up into this now empty dangerous area. From there he has the option to either cross the ball, lay it off to the incoming Gutman, or to shoot, which he chose to do in this play. This happened multiple times, with slight variations, throughout the match and was a large part of why Atlanta United had an astounding 16 shots and Rossetto got his first MLS goal from his 3 shots, all from similar positions.

Screenshot taken From FotMob

To prove it lets look at Rossetto's goal. It was a bit of a mess of a play with two sizable deflections, but despite that it still followed the same idea of players moving into space created by ball movement. In this play the ball is brought up the right wing before being crossed into Etienne Jr. who is crashing in from the left wing, leaving him unmarked at the far side of the box. He then settles the ball back to Almada who turns around from roughly 15 yards out to lay it off to the WIDE open Rossetto who gets quite lucky with the bounces, but as far as I am concerned it was deserved luck.

In the future we will hopefully see even more of these good movements which can be lethal for MLS teams and players who aren't quite as perfectly aware of their surroundings as someone playing at say Manchester City would be. So hopefully we will see plenty more full backs making inverted runs, attackers drawing defenders, and midfielders filling the open space.

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