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MLS Eastern Conference: Philadelphia’s Kai Wagner sounds off, transition for Atlanta & more on each team

We’re dissecting every MLS team in the Eastern Conference.

18 min read

Welcome back our two-part weekly MLS column here at Backheeled where we break down all 29 teams in the league.

I’ve got the East. Joe Lowery's got the West. We got early goals. We got red cards. We got analysis. Let’s get this bread.

To read up on the West, check out Joe’s rundown.

MLS Western Conference: Seattle Sounders find their formula, transfer action & more on each team
We’re dissecting every MLS team in the Western Conference.

Atlanta United

Result: 2-2 draw vs. Houston Dynamo

Joe Lowery: With Gonzalo Pineda gone (oh, and Giorgos Giakoumakis is officially out the door, too), a new era has begun for Atlanta United. 

Ideally this new era, one that features Rob Valentino in the manager’s chair as an interim once again, won’t last long before it’s replaced by one that includes a permanent coach on the sidelines. But until both the top of the roster settles after the summer transfer window and Garth Lagerwey hires a new manager, the Five Stripes are in transition.

Under Pineda, Atlanta United largely lacked structure. Their pressing approach was poor and their kill patterns in the final third were spotty, at best. Pineda’s team, not unlike Tata Martino’s Atlanta United team, was ultimately driven by the players. 

But with rotten injury luck, poor goalkeeping, and a roster that hasn’t proven it can compete with the best of the East, Atlanta slipped below the playoff line. In the next coach, will Lagerwey look for someone eager to implement a more rigid structure? Or will he push his full trust in the players and look for another hands-off coach? It’s a big question, one of many for Atlanta as they head into the summer.

On the field against Houston, there weren’t any whole-sale tactical changes from Valentino. Atlanta played out of a 4-2-3-1 shape, notably with Brad Guzan back in goal after Josh Cohen flubbed his chance to make the starting job his own. There was a general lack of sharpness in the home team’s performance, with too many turnovers stemming from their possession play and an early concession from a set piece. 

Everything is just off in Atlanta right now. The lineup barely resembles the one we thought we start every week coming into the year and the top two teams in the East have doubled them up on points. The changes that are coming — to the striker spot with Giakoumakis now down in Mexico and to the manager role, at a minimum — can’t come soon enough.

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