There were some parallels between the U.S. national team’s 6-0 win over Honduras on Friday night and the two most recent Atlanta United performances.
Ruthless finishing: Comparing the Atlanta United 6-1 win in Minnesota with the U.S. 6-0 win over Honduras, neither team created a slew of shots on goals, but they finished them with ruthless efficiency. Bruce Arena’s squad had eight shots on goal and converted six of them. Atlanta United duplicated that efficiency in Minnesota a few weeks ago with six goals from eight shots on goal.
Free roles: One big difference that Arena implemented with the U.S. was giving Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic the freedom to drift in and out of position to be creative. It paid off handsomely with Dempsey’s hat-trick performance and Pulisic’s one goal and two assists. Tata Martino gives his attacking talents freedom as well. Miguel Almiron can roam anywhere in the central midfield to find possession and launch attacks. Josef Martinez often drops in deep to get on the ball and create combinations. Yamil Asad and Tito Villalba often drift inside from their wing positions to create mismatches.
Possession is overrated: In both games, the team that won via a commanding scoreline did not dominate possession. Atlanta United essentially split the possession stats with Minnesota in their win and the U.S. actually gave more possession to Honduras. It was all about the quick-strike attack in both wins. Once the ball moved into the final third, the victors were decisive in their passing and did not waste time in going to goal. Atlanta showed in the Chicago match that it can dominate possession and still be ruthless. We will have to see if Bruce Arena’s U.S. squad can perform the same way against teams that bunker against them.
The win got the U.S. back into the mix in World Cup qualifying, but it will be a battle throughout the year. Friday night’s goal explosion has the team in fourth place on goal difference over Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras. Mexico and Costa Rica top the group, with Panama in the third and final automatic qualification spot. The team that finishes in fourth place will take part in a home and away series with the fifth place finisher from Asia in November.
With seven games remaining, anything can happen for the U.S. in the final round of World Cup qualifying. The chances of booking a trip to Russia look much improved after Friday night’s win, but there is still work to do.
On the Atlanta United front, Miguel Almiron’s Paraguay is still on the outside looking in at World Cup qualification in South America. It’s a tough task Tuesday, heading to Sao Paulo to face the top team on the continent in Brazil. The home team has only lost once in the qualification round robin in 13 games. Chile is also on the outside of qualification, sitting in sixth place on goal difference behind Ecuador. Carlos Carmona’s squad will be hosting a Josef Martinez-less Venezuela Tuesday in a game that they should win. Martinez is back in Atlanta and awaiting the results of a MRI on his injured left leg.
We’ll recap all the action on Wednesday and start to look ahead at Atlanta United’s big trip to Seattle on Friday night to face the defending MLS Cup champions.