Know your enemy! Each week, we do a Q&A with our friends around the SB Nation Soccer world to get some insight on their team from those who know them best.
This week, New York is on the road in Bobby Dodd Stadium to take on the explosive Atlanta United FC, hot off a big win against Houston Dynamo.
Our Atlanta expert, Haris Kruskic, is with us again to answer our questions ahead of the match. We discuss the Houston match, Josef Martinez's imminent return, and what it will take to beat NYC on Sunday.
Q. After a nice start to the season things have gotten harder for Atlanta and the team hasn't been nabbing points at the same rate they were earlier. In the matches sandwiching the NYC FC game, Atlanta managed just one solitary point and had a -4 GD, but then suddenly turned it around last weekend, thrashing Houston 4-1. What was going wrong in the three games prior to Houston and watch changed in that 4-1 beat down?
H. I think last week was the first time Atlanta United's attack has looked comfortable since Josef Martinez's injury. Moving Julian Gressel to the wing two weeks ago against Portland has been a wonderful revelation for Tata Martino. Since that move, Atlanta has played with the same starting lineup the past two matches, the first time we've had that kind of consistency since Martinez went down. Point being, it's really nice to have some consistency for the first time in a while.
Also, the coaching staff asked Miguel Almiron to start shooting and he apparently got that memo.
Q. Josef Martinez was notably absent from our first meeting and we clearly dodged a bullet not having to deal with him. Prior to going down with an injury, he amassed a stupid 5 goals in 3 matches and was tearing the league up. What is his status leading up to the match, how has his absence impacted the team, and how does he get reintegrated into the squad when he's ready to return to starters' minutes?
H. Martinez returned to training a couple weeks ago, and Martino simply responded "Closer" when asked about Martinez's status. We could see him make the bench on Sunday, but it's still up in the air for the most part.
I already partly mentioned what his impact is on the team when he's absent, as Atlanta is just now beginning to find their feet in regards to the preferred lineup. Before Almiron's hat trick last week, Martinez was still our leading scorer even after missing seven matches and only playing in three. That's pretty crazy.
Personally, I think reintegrating him back into the lineup is as simple as putting him up top, moving Hector Villalba back to right wing, and moving Gressel to the bench where he can operate as an energetic sub.
Q. Our first meeting was relatively one-sided after the half, where NYC took control and held on for a comfortable 3-1 victory. What did you see in that match that you liked and what did you see that you think Atlanta needs to change ahead of our second meeting?
H. I didn't like much, to be honest. Martino has gone on record saying the NYCFC match is the only one he feels Atlanta has been completely outplayed in.
We need to play our preferred style, which relies on possession. Atlanta enjoys dictating matches, which was especially difficult to do in a smaller pitch like Yankee Stadium. We were terrible all the way around the first match, and just completely taken out of our element.
Q. Starting XI and match prediction?
H. Starting XI:
There you have it! Thanks again to Haris for answering our questions. Have some thoughts you want to share about trap music or soccer stuff?