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.

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.

 

Mekeil Williams RB Colorado Rapids

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.

 

MLS Soca Warrior Round-Up: Week 1

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Week 1 of the MLS is in the books. New teams were unveiled. New faces in different places. For our T&T internationals, it wasn’t a kind weekend for most, but despite the result, one or two still had a good game. Let’s review.

Joevin Jones LB Seattle Sounders FC:

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Will Parchman of SoundersFC.com had this to say about the Sounders defender and Soca Warrior winger:

So we had a pretty good inkling Joevin Jones was going to be in for a good year this preseason. He was probably the Sounders’ best player over the life of the 2017 preseason, and entering the regular season there were precious few left backs league-wide who could legitimately claim to be on better form. On Saturday, he proved those claims were no myth. This is the best Jones has ever looked.

Jones pumped in dangerous cross after dangerous cross on Saturday, and the majority of the Sounders’ best goal-bound opportunities were generated off his left flank. Ever since arriving in Seattle we’ve known Jones had the speed to push width and create danger on the overlap, but his one-on-one defending was often stressed to a breaking point due to his need to track back from such high positions. Considering he was up against the youthful Alberth Elis, one of the best offseason acquisitions in the league, Saturday’s matchup was of particular interest.

There was certainly a feeling-out period between the two in the first half, but Jones simply wore Elis down over the course of the match. By the time there were 20 minutes left, Elis was gassed and Jones looked like he was still fit enough to run a marathon. The Sounders’ back line was quality in the run of play all night, and Jones was its lodestar. But more than that, he ground a young, spry winger into dust.

We’ve known for some time Jones had all the potential in the world. It seems he’s getting dangerously close to realizing the whole lot of it.

Will Parchman (SoundersFC.com)

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That was Joevin Jones in a nutshell that whole game. Whoever was his marker or who was marking him had no chance against him. He’s too quick to defend against and always able to beat his man past him to deliver an uncontested cross into the box. In the second half is when he really turned it on. One cross deflected off the keeper and found itself on the foot of Clint Dempsey, who returned to MLS action after missing the season with an irregular heartbeat. Another well placed cross found the foot of Lodeiro who amazingly missed the equalizer. Head coach Brian Schmetzer was very high on JJ’s performance:

“He was great. He carried a lot of our attack down the left-hand side, and you saw him for what he is. A really skillful, technical, fast, young, fit player.”

– Brian Schmetzer (Seattle Sounders Head Coach)

This was also the first game where I really recognized his play defensively as well. He was all over his man like a snuggie.  When he was in the box, Joevin gave him little to no room. He was solid except when the ball is going in the other direction and he already made the push upfield. All in all, despite a loss, Joevin Jones has shown me (albeit this is the 2nd Sounders game I’ve seen) a key player on the Seattle Sounders.

Highlights:


Kevin Molino RW Minnesota United F.C.

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Woof! I can’t lie. This game was rough to watch.

Coach Adrian Heath invested heavily on offensive firepower, including a $650,000 trade to bring the former Orlando City player over to the expansion side in the preseason. However the back four was absolutely atrocious throughout the whole game. It’s like Minnesota were on the ball then all of a sudden, a Portland player is running down the sideline and scoring a goal. There were a lot of defensive lapses including this:

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Yeah…I dunno how that didn’t result in a goal, but that’s how bad they were on the defense.

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As for Molino, I really didn’t see much of him in this game. I wish I had proper game film to better analyse his play, but I just don’t remember him making much of an impact on the game, and he played the full 90 mins. Hopefully next week they have better success in their first home game against fellow expansion side Atlanta United, and I’ll have more to say on Molino next week. He’s one of the best players in the MLS in my eyes and Minnesota thinks the same way. That’s why MNUFC and Coach Heath brought him here. But he has to show up, and that defense has to raise their game come next week.

Highlights:

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Kenwyne Jones CF Atlanta United:

@atlutdnews @atlutd #uniteandconquer ….it's time

A post shared by Kenwyne Jones (@kenwynejonestt) on

Remember when I said I expected Kenwyne Jones to start in the inaugural game for Atlanta as their top forward? Well I did, and I was wrong. I was so wrong…

Apparently I didn’t take in to consideration the many factors led 23-year old Venezuelan Josef Martínez (on loan from Torino) over the 32 year old Soca Warrior. There’s the 9 year age gap, the fact that Martínez scored 4 more goals than Jones in the preseason (Kenwyne didn’t score) and that Martínez is much more fitter. Fortunately (to my relief) I wasn’t the only one that thought Kenwyne Jones was the clear cut starter in Atlanta:

Heading into camp there are several categories of players. You have your lock starters like Miguel Almiron and Kenwyne Jones. Then your depth players like Mikey Ambrose and Harrison Heath. In between those two groups is a rather large group of players who have a lot to prove and positions to earn.

– Rob Usry (Dirty South Soccer)

Kenwyne Jones saw playing time, being subbed on in the 85th minute while Atlanta United found themselves on the losing end of a 2-1 defeat, after looking like the better of the two sides for about 80 minutes. When he came on, he didn’t do much in terms of contributing to try to get the score level (I mean what could you do in 9 mins?).The ball didn’t even see him as the Red Bulls were trying to run out the clock.

It seems though that, barring injury, that this is the role that Jones will take up: a relief striker that will play, at max, 15 min. games; providing a different attacking threat to Josef Martínez: a back-to-goal striker with aerial scoring potential. I was hoping that the MLS would be a way for Jones to regain a semblance of form for the WCQ games against Mexico and Panama this month, but it doesn’t look to be the case here.


As for the other T&T internationals in MLS, Mekeil Williams was on the bench for the Colorado Rapids 1-o win in their opener against the L.A. Galaxy, while defender Shannon Gomez and winger Cordell Cato didn’t show up on the team sheet this weekend. The Cato absence surprised me a little bit. While last season he only tallied 2 assists in 21 games played last season, he’s proven to be a capable player with 7 goals and 8 assists since joining the club in 2013. More recently he’s had a couple good outings with the Soca Warriors. Him and the other T&T internations (K. Jones included) are just an injury away from getting playing time, so hopefully we’ll get to see Cato and the others in action.

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Three Ways That Molino Could Line Up in Minnesota’s Attack

Expansion side Minnesota United FC paid a king’s ransom to get winger/attacking midfielder Kevin Molino away from Orlando City SC and so far, at least in pre-season play, he’s been worth every penny. In three pre-season starts he has tallied 3 goals and, although not registering any official assists, he has been creating opportunities to help his teammates in the build-up of play for goal-scoring opportunities.

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Last season he was Goal USA’s Comeback Player of the year, coming back from a torn ACL to score 11 goals and provide 8 assists in 26 starts. This season, he looks to be the face of a fledgling franchise and improve on those numbers in a familiar system with former Orlando City coach Adrian Heath. With Minnesota United’s inaugural season approaching, I’m going to look at three possible roles that the Trinidad and Tobago player could play in the Twin Cities.

Out Wide as a Forward (Left or Right) in a 4-3-3: The main reason that Adrian Heath wanted Molino, and why he’s such a dangerous attacking threat, is his ability to play anywhere from the wings to the attacking midfield. While he’s more effective at CAM, Heath has been playing Molino on the left side of the pitch as a forward in a 4-3-3 against Vancouver. Back in Orlando, because Kaka was the no.10, Molino was used a lot on the right side. In terms of distribution, he doesn’t whip in a lot of crosses from the wide areas, preferring more to penetrate from the left or right side of the technical area, and use the attention that he attracts to make the pass to an open attacker.

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According to Squawka, he created 13.2% of chances from in the technical area, so if he can’t find a way to score from the wing, he has the vision to look for the open man; and with him looking to be the main man that opposing coaches will be looking to gameplan around, there should be a lot of chances to make his teammates capitalise on those opportunities. [https://streamable.com/826pr%5D

 

Behind the Striker in a 4-2-1-3/4-3-1-2

This where I rather see Molino: playing behind the striker as an attacking midfielder, playing in the hole and exploiting what-ever real estate is in front of him and delivering the key ball to either Cristian Ramirez or rookie Abu Danladi, whoever gets the start on match day, or maybe even both if Heath wants to play two strikers up front. molino-amc Coach Heath would look to go offense heavy while creating build-up from possession. Molino created the majority of his chances from the area between the halfway line to the opponent’s technical area (55.3% according to Squawka). So now defenders have a choice when Molino’s in the hole: go out to to meet Molino and risk giving up space behind them for a cutting winger or finding the striker ahead of him, or stay back to cover the flanks but allow Molino to exploit the space. [https://streamable.com/r6rno%5D

He could also play more as a second striker poaching for goals, which happens to be his specialty; most of his goals came off of deflected efforts in the box, and he’s such an instinctive player. When there’s confusion after the first effort, Molino always seems to either be the calmest man in the box, guiding the loose ball into the net or just come out of nowhere to put it in the auld onion bag.

Up front in a 4-3-3:
This might be a bit of a stretch but why not? Although I never saw him play in the middle and although he may not be a traditional centre-forward, he certainly has the height (he’s 5’11”) to head in crosses and the strength to play in the box, fend off defenders and find players in space to capitalise on goal-scoring opportunities. Is he Kenwyne Jones? Nah (but he’s better. Jk.Well he is…you know what I mean), but could make plays for you in the box. 

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Heath has good depth at the forward role with Johan Venegas slated to start after extensive minutes during pre-season, as well as Christian Ramirez and #1 Draft pick Abu Danladi in the reserves, but if injuries arise, or if Heath wants to try something different, I wouldn’t put it past him to maybe play Molino as the centre forward, probably in short stints until he believes he’s a viable option. It could be favorable in counter-attacking situations with the extra speed coming from the centre-forward spot.

 

Kevin Molino Pre-Season Highlights (incomplete):

[https://streamable.com/agibj]