Updated: Jul 28
In an away match that saw lots of Atlanta United fans travel up to Charlotte for the chance to see their team perform away from home for the first time this season Atlanta United executed brilliantly on their game plan to get them a very important first away win, as Atlanta only managed a 2-5-10 away record last year. The game had a number of very important takeaways as Caleb Wiley registered a first half brace and an assist for Luiz Araujo to round out an incredible performance on the left wing. The team also made a number of very important tactical decisions as they compressed onto a wing both in attack and defense to completely out play Charlotte FC. On a side note Charlotte's tifo for ex-Charlotte and Atlanta United defender Anton Walkes was beautiful.
Compression in the Attack
If there is one takeaway from this match it should be this, a successful tactical decision from Pineda, which allowed us to pull their defense totally out of position. This is best demonstrated in Atlanta United's first goal in which the ball falls to Thiago Almada on the wing.
And from here he can either dribble into the space in the middle(red), the obviously easier route, or he can make his better decision of bringing the ball straight down the wing towards the two Charlotte defenders(blue). This seems like a poor decision but it draws every defender towards him, leaving Caleb Wiley wide open.
And from here it is a simple task for Caleb Wiley to bag his second MLS goal ever in the 5th minute. He runs onto the through ball, runs into the box and scores confidently into the roof of the net. This bringing the ball out wide to create space was seen last game, as well, but not as clearly as in this example. This bodes well for Atlanta United as incisive off the ball movements are really dangerous in the MLS because most MLS defenders aren't disciplined enough to stay in the space, and even if they are their teammate will get beat by either Thiago Almada or Luiz Araujo.
Compression & Pressing
Atlanta United also carried out compression tactics on defense, which is also demonstrated in Atlanta United's first game if you rewind a little bit farther back. Charlotte is trying to bring the ball up their left wing through a Kamil Jozwiak run. How Atlanta defends this run is the most first step. Notice how the midfielders and defenders press Jozwiak creating a sort of pocket around him which forces him to turn around and pass backwards.
This is Atlanta United compressing onto Charlotte on the wing. The idea is that if they can keep Charlotte from passing out of it Charlotte will either lose the ball out of bounds or be tackled by one of the surrounding defenders.
In this case Jozwiak passes backwards to Westwood(red) who passes the ball back out to Bronico(blue) who then completes the triangle and passes the ball back to Jozwiak(green).
This is when Atlanta United pounces with a great tackle by Amar Sejdic(blue) which creates a loose ball that Almada pounces on(red). This creates the attack talked about above. This style also helps contribute to the lack of central players to defend against the attack as many came over to try to relieve the pressure on that left wing and then failed to mark the space that Wiley ran onto.
One of the happiest takeaways for me was Luiz Araujo finally converting this season, I know it's only been 3 games but still. Luiz played really well in this game with good movement and awareness both on and off the ball which helped to allow for the Wiley goals, especially his second goal. Araujo runs onto the ball on the right wing. He then plays the ball across the top of the box towards Almada(red) who runs over it to let it run through to Wiley who finishes it well(blue).
Looking a little father back at Atlanta United's second goal Araujo finally got into the box when he shot. While he did let one loose from a good distance away his other four shots were from either inside or right on the edge of the penalty box.
Luiz receives the ball from Caleb Wiley(red) and then has a decision to make, does he want to let it rip from there(green) or make the correct decision and dribble into the box to shoot(blue).
Araujo, thankfully, chose the second option and dribbled into the box. From there he easily beat Bronico and got off a nice shot from his left foot into the near post bottom corner.
Despite this great attacking play in the first half and very good defending for most of the game including some really good pressing leading to all 3 of the goals there were some mistakes made defensively. The first was an uncharacteristic mistake from Brad Guzan leading to a really good opportunistic chance for Malanda to score. Brad goes up for the cross and can't claim it which lets Charlotte's defender shoot over his back and just over the bar.
The second defensive mistake was a near penalty call. The ball was put into the penalty area and headed around before falling to Jozwiak on the far side of the penalty area who misses the half volley before colliding with Brooks Lennon. The referee, Ismail Elfath, originally ruled the play a penalty before being sent to watch it by VAR Drew Fischer. After watching the play Elfath decided to reverse the penalty call which was very lucky for Atlanta United. It was definitely a light penalty call but the wording around VAR overturning something is clear and obvious and personally I am not sure it was but either way Atlanta got away with one on that play.