From Expansion Team To Playoff Contender: Atlanta United F.C. Is For Real

When I first started watching Major League Soccer, my initial reason was to cover the Trinidad and Tobago players that were playing in the different teams, such as last year’s MLS champion Joevin Jones in Seattle, Cordell Cato with the Earthquakes, Kevin Molino in his new team in Minnesota, and Kenwyne Jones in the expansion team, Atlanta United.

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Jones and the Sounders have had an up and down season with some spectacular come-from-behind finishes, the Loons in Minnesota have been getting better by the game and Molino has proven to be one of the main guys there, Cato, while haven’t seeing the field much, he’s been decent off the bench, and Kenwyne, who, for Atlanta, has not been able to make a significant impact, due to injury and Atlanta simply having better options at the front.

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But of all the teams listed, Atlanta United to me, since the season started, have not looked like an expansion team at all. From the jump, the Five Stripes have been in my eyes,one of the most exciting teams in the MLS, and since moving into the new Mercedes-Benz Arena, they’ve looked nearly unstoppable. After starting the season with a loss against the New York Red Bulls at home, they went to a winter wonderland up in Minnesota, field almost blanketed in snow, Atlanta ran rampant against their fellow expansion team Minnesota United. Atlanta looked like a well established MLS club, putting 6 goals on Molino’s team. From then on, only Toronto FC have scored more goals this season than Atlanta United (Toronto: 67, Atlanta: 63).

 

The team starts with former Barcelona manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, known for his fast-paced, high-pressed, counter-attacking brand of football. His main guy is Venezuelan Josef Martinez, the loanee from Torino, who will now play for Atlanta United for the forseeable future, who fits the system set by Tata. In 16 games played, he’s scored 17 goals, including 8 goals in 5 matches since Atlanta United started playing in the new stadium.

 

Even when he went down during the middle of the season with a Hamstring Injury, Tata still had other attacking options such as the creative Paraguayan, Miguel Almiron, the speedy Argentine wingers Argentine Héctor “Tito” Villalba and loanee Yamil Asad, who scored Atlanta United’s  inaugural goal against the Red Bulls. Add to that a steady midfield options such as Julian Gressel, Carlos Carmona, defenders like Anton Walkes, Michael Parkhurst and Greg Garza, and Brad Guzan who splits time with Tim Howard as the goalkeeper on USMNT, it’s a stacked roster that has taken Atlanta United on the brink of the MLS post-season in their first season.
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One more thing that has impressed me with the franchise it’s the huge fan support that Atlanta United has garnered leading up and during their inaugural season. Owner Arthur Blank, who also owns the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL, had a vision of soccer in the south and made it a reality. Team President Darren Eales did a great job with front office decisions. Tata Martino compiled the roster and the players delivered. The fanbase one one of the biggest and most loyal in the league already, so much that even the local rappers and DJs have been seen sporting the Five Stripes.
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The football culture is something to behold down in Atlanta, Georgia and if the team keeps the momentum up this season, we could have a dark horse for the MLS Cup in December.

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WATCH: Another Game, Another Molino Assist

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Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Kevin Molino adds to his assists tally with another one against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Down 2-0 early in the 2nd half, Molino helped mount a comeback run for the Loons, crossing the ball into the box and delivered it to defender Fransisco Calvo, heading it downwards and into goal, right past Goalkeeper David Ousted.

That makes 5 assists for Molino in his first season and 2 in back-to-back games. Currently the game is tied up 2-2 late in the 2nd half.

 

 

WATCH: Molino Through-Ball Leads to Ramirez Goal

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Kevin Molino follows up a bitter-sweet run of performances over the International Break with his 4th assist of the season against the Portland Timbers on Thursday.

After receiving the ball, Molino beats the defender, Alvas Powell, going right, sees Christian Ramirez alongside the last defender, and delivers it to the striker, beating the offside trap and has him in prime real estate with nobody around him. Ramirez had time to stop the ball on his right foot, have it rise up and flicking it into the goal on the same foot, beating Portland Timbers keeper Jeff Attinella.

Molino impacted the game earlier in the first half when his headed attempt from a corner forced Attinella to force it over the bar.

Video Link: https://streamable.com/s/kje24/dnmwjk

Just a few minutes later he had a “hockey assist” to this own goal

Molino now has 4 assists to go along with 5 goals in his first season with Minnesota United, who are sitting 9th in the Western Conference but 3 points out of the final playoff spot. The Loons next game is against the Vancouver Whitecaps today at 8:00 pm.

T&T Must Get Crucial Points Against CONCACAF Powerhouses In Next Round Of Hex Games

 

It’s been a rough first 4 games for the Soca Warriors in The Hex to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. Opening with two losses against Costa Rica and Honduras, a win against Panama and then a game that felt like it should’ve been a win against Mexico, have us looking at a 1-0-3 record and last place in the 6-team playoff for a spot in Russia.

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Our next two games are against 3rd place in CONCACAF USA and 2nd place Costa Rica (according to FIFA Rankings) and a poor showing against these two CONCACAF giants could see our World Cup hopes go up in smoke (again). To make things a little worse, Head Coach Dennis Lawrence said that San Jose Earthquakes winger Cordell Cato will not be a part of the two fixtures due to “disciplinary actions.”

Coach Lawrence had began preparations for the Soca Warriors 2nd matchup for the USMNT 2 weeks prior to the game in Denver, running practices in order to acclimatize his players to the high altitude in the Mile High City.

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Getting accustomed to the thin air is one thing; the Americans are another. Last time these countries met in the National Stadium, it was a 4-0 defeat in the final game of the 4th round in CONCACAF qualifying. Jozy Altidore got a brace, while Sacha Kljestian and Paul Arriola also added to the tally.

The second match is against Costa Rica, who defeated us 2-0 in September after a strong showing in the 1st half but unable to take advantages of the opportunities that were given to us. It was all downhill from there in the 2nd half when Christian Navarro and Roland Ulate put us down late in the 2nd half.

The obvious problem is that 1.) we don’t score enough and 2.) we don’t do enough to keep goals out. Through 4 games we have a goal difference of -4 and we’re going against teams that we haven’t scored in their own dojos in more than a decade.

America has won 10 straight home games against the Soca Warriors, scoring 25 goals and allowing a stingy 3 goals in that span. The last time we scored a goal on American soil, Arnold Dwarika scored his 2nd goal against the Americans in a 3-2 loss in the Rose Bowl in Gold Cup competition in 1996.

Below is a chart found on MLSSoccer.com showing the goal differential between USA and T&T dating back to 1982. As you can see, it’s THAT bad.

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via MLSSoccer.com

And we haven’t got to Costa Rica yet, where we have a 3-4-18 record against them and we last beat them 17 years ago in Gold Cup play where we won 2-1. Mickey Trotman scored the golden goal in the 101′ to seal the victory to meet eventual champs Canada in the semi-final. The last time we scored a goal on Costa Rican soil was a month earlier in January where Dwarika scored in a 2-1 defeat.

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Trinidad and Tobago have got to find ways to score on the road on Thursday and Tuesday if they want to keep their World Cup hopes alive. We’ve shown that we could hang with the best that CONCACAF has to offer (see first Costa Rica game & Mexico in March). We just need to do what’s necessary in order to get the results that is needed.

Kenwyne Jones is our unquestioned leader and captain but he needs to convert the chances he gets into goals. We can’t afford for him to keep coming up empty. Kevin Molino has done great things coming back into the fold but we need more from him, and also for him to keep his composure when things get feisty. Joevin Jones has been one of our most important players, giving everything thing he has. Jan-Michael Williams has to do better to keep goals out and the back four has to keep the pressure off him. These are recurring themes that Coach Lawrence has improved but still has to work on in order for the Warriors to get over the hump.

Realistically, I’m looking at two draws this weekend and calling that a success. It’s going to be really difficult to score wins in those environments, especially the America game, but i believe that Coach Lawrence could make a difference this time around. We won the Panama game, and we played the Mexicans with a lot of confidence and heart and that was a game we probably should have won, but circumstances allowed us to lose our grip on the game. I believe that Lawrence could find positives from that game especially to show his Soca Warriors that we could play with the best that CONCACAF has to offer and get these crucial points to keep us in World Cup contention.

 

 

Trinidad & Tobago Roster

Goalkeepers (3): Jan Michael Williams, Marvin Phillip, Adrian Foncette

Defenders (9): Radanfah Abu Bakr, Sheldon Bateau, Curtis Gonzales, Daneil Cyrus, Mekeil Williams, Triston Hodge, Alvin Jones, Carlos Edwards, Aubrey David

Midfielders (9): Hashim Arcia, Andre Boucaud, Kevan George, Hughtun Hector, Khaleem Hyland, Joevin Jones, Nathan Lewis, Kevin Molino, Leston Paul

Forwards (3): Shahdon Winchester, Jamille Boatswain, Kenwyne Jones

Stuff That MLS T&T Soca Warriors Did While I Was On Hiatus

I haven’t written anything about our Soca Warrior players in the MLS since the International break due to school taking up a lot of my time as well as I’ve started back job hunting. I’m back now, hopefully to keep the content flowing. To start off, let’s review how our boys have been doing since the break.

Kevin Molino In A Groove

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Since the international break, Kevin Molino has been on somewhat of a fine run of form at Minnesota United, who have finally started to make some headway in their inaugural season. Since returning to Minnesota, they have moved out of the cellar of the Western Conference, tallied a 2-1-1 record, including finally getting their first win in club history against Real Salt Lake. In Molino’s first game back against RSL, he had a goal and 2 assists on the day (he could’ve had 3 but he got greedy), and picked up another assist against Houston Dynamo in a 2-2 draw. He’s been seeing more of the ball lately, getting involved in the playmaking and getting more of a feel of his teammates and his performances have definitely improved because of it. Look for him to keep the play up throughout the season.

Link to Kevin Molino Highlight vid: https://streamable.com/s/bei5f/zdhryk


Kenwyne Finally Gets To Start, Scores His First MLS Goal, But Asad Doesn’t Trust Him To Score Another

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When Josef Martinez injured his right quad back in March, you’d figure it was finally Kenwyne Jones’ time to shine. Sure enough, after being subbed on in the two games after the international break, the 32 year old striker finally broke into the Starting XI for the first time against Montreal Impact.

Receiving a beautiful ball from Hector Villalba, Kenwyne had room to run and smashed in his first MLS goal. Although Atlanta United would go on to lose the contest 2-1 to Impact, the fans and Atlanta United awarded his efforts by naming him the team’s Man of  the Match.

He didn’t get on the stat sheet in his next start against Real Salt Lake, but he did play 89 mins, which tells me that he is match fit and healthy and will be ready to go if and when Tito Martino requires his services, whether he starts or coming off the bench. He could’ve had himself another goal if Asad chose to pass the ball to an open Jones who had an open net in front of him. For one reason or another (I call foul), Asad chooses to shoot around a fallen keeper and score the goal for himself.

Petty.

While his hold up play may not always work with Tito’s need for speed in his system, he proved that he could contribute when given the looks. Hopefully we can see him do more backflips for ATL in the future.


Europe Has Eyes On In-Form J.J., But The Sounders Are Still Looking For Wins

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Joevin Jones has still been a bright spot in what has a been a slow start for the defending MLS Cup champions; 2-2-3 overall and 1-2-1 in their last four games since the break. The left touchline still belongs to Jones however, with 7 successful tackles and 6 clearances on the defensive side since the break and picking up an assist (resulting in an Ashley Cole OG) in a strong showing during  the win against the Galaxy.

All this while rumors swirl that some top European leagues have taken an interest in the 25 year old LB/Winger. It’s been said that teams from La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga are interested but nothing official has been reported as of yet. Maybe as we get closer to July the rumors will hold truth. This could be his one and only opportunity to get a stint in Europe as it’s unlikely that he’ll be leaving MLS to play in Europe past the age of 25. In the meantime, he’s focused on getting the Sounders back into the playoffs for another shot at the cup.


Depleted Midfield Means More Cato for San Jose

It’s been a rough start for the Earthquakes this season. Injuries to the back four and midfield have set the team back some but still manage to hold on to 6th place in the Western Conference. However, this allows T&T national Cordell Cato to finally get his legs warm and see the field, starting with being subbed on against Joevin Jones’ Sounders.

A strong 24 minute showing and being credited with an assist (more of a “hockey assist” but ok) he broke into the starting line-up for the first time this season in the next game against FC Dallas.

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He also had this attempt that just went over the bar:

In his most recent game in a loss against the Houston Dynamo, Cato played all 90 mins, and sees his attempt shot go wide at the post:

With the injuries to San Jose, Cato will be seeing more of the field and is expected to start in the next game against Molino’s Minnesota United. He’s looking to impress and keep his spot in the XI for the weeks to come as San Jose look to bounce back and get more Ws this season.


Mekeil Williams and the Rapids are Not Where They Want To Be

An injury to usual starter Axel Sjoberg has thrusted Mekeil Williams into the starting left back position but the Rapids have since dwelled in the cellar in the early stages of the MLS season. After getting his first start in a 2-2 draw with Minnesota United, the Rapids have endured a 3 game losing streak since the international break. Williams has not looked his best in that stretch with poor performances against Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United in their 2nd go-round. In my eyes he’s playing too high up (granted to provide support for the attack), but, especially in the SKC game, he got caught on the counter and not transitioning back to the defense in time to help curb it.

Williams needs to pick it up defensively so that he could stay in the XI. If things keep looking bad for the Rapids, they’ll have to make some changes in order to see themselves out of the bottom of the West.


Jones Stars Out, Molino Capitalizes and Williams Gets The Nod in Week 3 of MLS

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Three of the Soca Warriors were in acton over the weekend as Mekeil Williams got his first start of the season, Kevin Molino is on the score sheet for the 2nd week in a row and Joevin Jones puts on another great performance.

 

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Mekeil Williams got the start on Saturday against a struggling Minnesota United team after defender Axel Sjöberg went down with a hamstring injury and would be out 6-8 weeks. His first start could’ve gone better for the Soca Warrior defender. According to Whoscored.com,  he made 4 total tackles and picked up 2 fouls, including a yellow card on the defensive side, and made 47 passes with a 74.5% passing percentage. 4 of those were crosses, and 6 long balls, one that found a teammate.

Despite showing poise on the defensive end and an eye for taking the ball down the touchline, he still had his shaky moments:

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Look at the top of the gif. You see that he’s beaten already. Then Venegas makes his cut and leaves Williams in the dust, giving him the space he needs to get the cross off. Lucky for the Rapids, Christian Ramirez couldn’t connect and finish off the goal.

Another moment was when Williams tried to go for the ball when a Minnesota player had it on the touch line. Studs connected and that got him a card.

This final moment here had me befuddled:

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Look at the near side of the box. This collision here between Williams and Collen Warner, to me, shouldn’t warrant a penalty. While Williams was trying to engage, his and Warner’s feet just got tangled up. Was it intentional? To me it didn’t seem so, but it was an unlucky break for Williams that it resulted in Molino converting it from the spot.

All in all, it was an up and down day for Williams. Hopefully he stays in the main lineup and keeps at it to impress the coaches to keep him there until Sjöberg comes back or use this as an opportunity to audition himself for other teams around the league.


 

Kevin Molino MID Minnesota United F.C.

Molino’s probably glad that the international break has come around because I don’t he could take the cold (or the bad Minnesota defense) anymore.

It’s not his fault that the Loons are 0-1-2 and have allowed the most goals in the league so far (13) but that’s usually the case for an expansion side (don’t tell Atlanta United that). I still think that Molino could try to get himself more involved in the game. It’s not like I don’t he’s not involved, it’s just that I don’t notice hime. Sometimes I just don’t see him whenever I watch the Minnesota games, he’s just seems invisible (especially last week in the snow, I couldn’t see anyone). It’s not a knock on Molino and I don’t want it to be taken the wrong way. The man is the reason why I got into the MLS, and to highlight the Soca Warriors players in the MLS. But looking at the stats, he is doing a decent job at incorporating himself in the game and doing what he can to get this fledgling franchise to some victories.

According to Whoscored.com however, stats show that he had 43 touches on the ball with a passing percentage of 76%. One of his passes into the box resulted in a tangling of legs between Williams and Warner, where Molino managed to convert his 2nd spot kick in consecutive weeks.

With international duty calling, we’re glad to have him back on the Soca Warriors side for the WCQ matches against Panama and Mexico and we hope that his presence could better impact the games

Also, great gif MNUFC👌🏾:

Highlights:


 

Joevin Jones LB/LW Seattle Sounders

Game day .. time to defend our 🏆💚💙

A post shared by Joevin Jones (@joe_v_33) on

Joevin Jones man. It’s gonna come where I’m just going to say the same things about him week after week.

The man was spectacular yet again with an assist, a key cross that resulted in a goal and a shot on goal, to go along with completing 76% passes, connecting on 3 of 6 long balls (Whoscored.com), which with good defensive performance gets him a 7.2 match rating.

Now let’s watch in awe at his highlights as he returns home for the WCQs, starting with this:

The meg, the cross, the header. @j.morris13 finishes a slick move for @soundersfc! 🔥

A post shared by Major League Soccer (@mls) on

Bruh!

I blame Lodeiro for this. He pushes that ball so far out but Jones just has the pace to catch up to it to keep the play alive, then just has the awareness to know where the goal line is and his defender, leaving him no choice but to fill the gap left by the defender’s legs:

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I feel bad just watching this.

Let’s take you to his assist which I’m pretty sure was not planned:

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He basically takes a shot from outside of the box, takes a deflection off of Harry Shipp and it rolls in with the keeper just as bewildered as I am.

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Now to me that seems hard, re-directing a shot with that kind of velocity to curve it enough to skinny past the post, but with Joevin, anything’s possible.


 

Well the international break is this week which means no MLS action for any of the T&T players (except Shannon Gomez) but I hope to be in attendance to root for our Soca Warriors on Friday and Tuesday for our home games against Panama and Mexico. With Molino making his return and Joevin Jones’ recent run of form, I can expect positive results for our T&T football squad.

ICYMI: Jamille Boatswain Brace Could Get Him A Spot On The Soca Warriors WCQ Team

My first Soca Warriors game and I missed the first half (-_-), so I couldn’t give a full assessment of how the provisional team did against Barbados. Later on in the first half was more interesting, when Jamille Boatswain of Defence Force (#13) was brought on and scored two impressive looking goals and looks to be a lock for the March WCQs against Panama and Mexico.

 

Like I said, I didn’t see the entire first half. I heard part of the first half on the radio and the commentators views reflected what I saw in the highlight video above. It was a feeling out period on the side of the Soca Warriors. Most of their advances came on the wings and some opportunities came at the top of the box.

For Jameel Perry (#9), it wasn’t a good look for the Police FC striker. Every time the ball finds his foot in the box, he found every possible way to not score. It was ugly. I feel bad for laughing. You could probably factor in the slightly damp field conditions as for why he couldn’t maintain his balance in the box but still…lol.

This moment was the worst:

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One serious note to point out: He doesn’t look like the kind of forward player that could outrun the backline either. Watch how these two defenders catch up to him when he receives the through-ball:

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Now he’s no Joevin Joners or Kevin Molino but if any of those two players gotten that pass, 9/10 times that’s a goal.


 

Let’s talk about Jamille Boatswain:Image result for jamille boatswain

His 30mins on the pitch were the most exciting of the entire game by far. Not since Levi Garcia in the St Vincent game last year have I seen an immediate impact by a substitute like that. He has pace, control and when he’s in the box he showed much composure when he’s under pressure from the defender. His two goals were very good, and Coach Lawrence could fit him with the foreign-based players when he finalizes the WCQ squad:

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Lastly I’ve said that with two former defenders as coach and assistant, I figured that there would be a lot of emphasis on the back 4, which on Friday was led by Daniel Cyrus playing as a central defender, instead of his usual fullback spot. They held up well against the Bajan attack, obviously helping Marvin Phillip keep the sheet clean, while the fullbacks were pushing up the wings to aid in the attack. Alvin Jones (brother of Seattle Sounders player Joevin) put himself on notice by pulling this off:

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Put him on the side.