If the Five Stripes visit a forest badly needing three points, do they make a sound?
Things went as expected for Atlanta United midweek against Philadelphia, but now they look to bounce back as they travel across the country to face the Portland Timbers. With the Five Stripes now five points away from a playoff spot, the pressure is mounting for them to get a result out of this game lest they be left behind in the race for a playoff spot.
Portland (9-12-8) is 7th in the West with 39 points in 29 games. They have 42.6 expected goals and 43.5 expected goals allowed. Their attack is one of the league's most productive, with 20.52 shot-creating actions per 90 and 2.79 goal-creating actions per 90. Defensively, the team is 3rd in total defensive actions (tackles and interceptions) with 975. The Timbers are coming into the game with a two-game win streak after defeating Cascadian rival Seattle and Austin. The ones to watch in Portland's attack are Sebastian Blanco (7 goals, 7 assists), Jaroslaw Niezgoda (9 goals, 2 assists), Santiago Moreno (5 goals, 5 assists), and Dairon Asprilla (6 goals, 2 assists).
Portland Timbers predicted XI
Atlanta United predicted XI
How does Atlanta win?
As always, one of the big keys is not to concede first. We've seen it time and time again that when this team concedes, their morale goes down, the frustration goes up, and it seldom produces a good result. They'll need to try extra hard here to avoid any silly defensive mistakes, so they won't give up any soft goals. Unfortunately, Atlanta hasn't been particularly great at it throughout the season, and I don't expect them to be today.
Next, the premium attacking players need to WAKE UP. Almada and Araujo, who together cost the team around $30 million, have scored just one more goal than Gutman and Purata (both defenders and who haven't played nearly as many minutes with the team as either Almada or Araujo). When your defenders are scoring as much as your expensive attackers, there's a serious problem. Sometimes, this comes down to Almada and Araujo trying to dribble into tons of traffic, which has become somewhat predictable and usually gets shut down straight away. Other times, it's them taking some pretty bad shots. Either way, they'll have to do much better if they hope to leave Rose City with three points.