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Oppo research: Five questions for Dirty South Soccer

Kyle Soto of Dirty South Soccer gives us the straight dope on Atlanta United

MLS: Atlanta United FC at New York City FC
A clean tackle against the team from the Dirty South.
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Hudson River Blue asked Kyle Soto of Dirty South Soccer to give us some friendly insight into New York City FC’s opponents in the playoff game this coming Sunday.

The wheels came off Atlanta United under former manager Gabriel Heinze, who was sacked in July. Now that Gonzalo Pineda is in charge are players allowed to drink water while training? Follow-up question: Are there any mental scars from the Heinze era, or has the team collectively blocked out those memories?

As far as I can tell, I think the team has moved on from the Heinze era. It felt like when Heinze left a huge weight had been lifted, and even before Pineda came in Rob Valentino was righting the ship. This season has been a season of two halves for Atlanta, and the fact that Atlanta United finished where they did in the standings is a testament to the work that the team and the new coaching staff have done since coming in. No comment on the water.

Atlanta finished the season with a win at Cincinnati, but only after a flat first half against the worst team in MLS. That game followed a sluggish 0-0 draw away at the New Jersey Red Bulls. Still, Atlanta was undefeated in its last five games, with two wins and three draws. What is Atlanta’s form going into the playoffs?

There have definitely been some mixed feelings surrounding the team in recent weeks. There were a few games that Atlanta United could have, and even should have won in the last weeks of the season, but a lack of clinical finishing and an inability to see out games came back to bite the Five Stripes on a few occasions. I think Atlanta United realizes that a couple of months ago being in a playoff position at all would be a stretch, but that doesn’t mean Atlanta won’t feel like they can win this game.

You have one of the most imposing and athletic back lines in MLS. What do you think their game plan will be for Golden Boot winner Taty Castellanos?

Atlanta United could either line up in a back-three/five or a back-four. I think playing on Yankee Stadium’s narrow field could force Pineda’s team to set up slightly differently. If Santiago Sosa is fit to play, he can provide extra cover on the backline. They will know of the threat Castellanos poses and will keep on him throughout the match.

Josef Martinez is one of the greatest strikers in the history of MLS, but this hasn’t been his best year—and he essentially sat out last year. Is he still the focus of Atlanta’s attack?

Josef Martinez is always going to be able to provide a moment of magic. We saw that against FC Cincinnati on Decision Day, but we also saw it against Inter Miami on October 27 (a game in which he did virtually nothing besides scoring that crisp game-winner). That’s all to say that opposition teams can never count Josef out and need to always keep an eye on him. There are other offensive threats in Luiz Araújo, Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno, but Josef is also the emotional leader on the team and will be crucial for Atlanta.

NYCFC’s secret weapon is the five-a-side pitch at Yankee Stadium: There’s a reason why the team lost only six games in 70 matches played there. What’s Atlanta’s X-factor?

Atlanta’s X-factor is the front attacking four in Barco, Araújo, Moreno, and Josef Martinez. If this game were being played in Atlanta, I would say it’s the home crowd, comfort at home or something along those lines. A lot of players on this iteration of Atlanta United’s roster has never played at Yankee Stadium, so that will undoubtedly be a test for Atlanta, but that front four will need to make something special happen.