Promising Signs for 901 FC In Atlanta Draw 

After a tough return to action in Birmingham, 901 FC had a lot to work on in the next game against Atlanta United 2. In response, the team came firing out of the blocks against a young Atlanta squad. While the game was full of moments that could have swung the result either way, a 2-2 draw meant that Memphis earned its first point of the season.

There are two truths from last Saturday’s performance: the defense still needs work, and our strikers definitely have goals in them this season. On the attacking end, we saw some recognizable patterns of play that should stick around as the season continues. Let’s take a closer look at what worked, and what didn’t, during key plays from the match.

click to enlarge Memphis' Liam Doyle wins a header over Atlanta's Phillip Goodrum - PHOTO COURTESY ATLANTA UNITED 2
  • Photo courtesy Atlanta United 2
  • Memphis' Liam Doyle wins a header over Atlanta's Phillip Goodrum

In the first half, Memphis used its superior strength to win both physical and psychological duels with players. Centerback Liam Doyle led the charge with aggressive challenges on Atlanta attackers to win balls near the halfway line. This caused them to hesitate when going into challenges. In the 15th minute, this manifested with Segbers intercepting a ball in the final third and kicking it out to Pierre da Silva on the right wing. Segbers, playing at fullback but traditionally a winger, used his attacking instincts to make a run down the inside right channel into the box. This pulled attention from several members of the Atlanta defense, giving da Silva time and space to pick out a cross to forward Brandon Allen on the far post, which he headed over the bar.

While that pattern didn’t produce a goal, there were several similar instances throughout the game on both flanks with Allen on the end. Those sequences didn’t pay off today, but enough chances and Allen (one of the highest-scoring active players in the USL at the moment) will put them away. He did, however, get the equalizer at 1-1 when nodding in at the back post during a corner kick.

Working the flanks also paid dividends when 901 FC equalized to make it 2-2 in the 93rd minute. University of Memphis alum Raul Gonzalez (making his first appearance for 901 FC after sustaining a season-ending knee injury last pre-season) whipped in a cross off the right flank for new signing Cal Jennings. The substitute forward collected the ball on the edge of the box and took it to the byline, where he cut back and squeezed a shot in at the near post to make it 2-2. When a team has smart forwards like Allen and Jennings, they can take advantage of space in the box in crucial moments, as we saw last Saturday. On another note, Memphis is great at creating shooting chances at the top of the box. Many of these opportunities have been blocked or off target, but eventually, they’ll start to go in.

The defensive side of 901 FC’s game, however, still needs some fine-tuning. The first goal conceded was well worked by Atlanta, but Memphis keeper Jimmy Hague (standing in for Tim Howard) probably should have done a bit better since the shot was directly at him. Atlanta’s second, however, came from poor positioning in the second half. 

Opposing defender Mo Jadama burst forward looking for a pass, and Doyle stepped up to put pressure behind an Atlanta attacker. Fellow centerback Triston Hodge (filling in for the suspended Zach Carroll) stepped up with Doyle, but fullbacks Segbers and Rece Buckmaster both maintained their previous positions, breaking Memphis’ defensive line and allowing Jadama to slip a through-ball to 16-year-old (!) Coleman Gannon. The forward raced into the box, both onside and completely unimpeded, to put Atlanta ahead.

There are other defensive issues to sort out, as well. The defensive line hasn’t been as steady so far this season as it was last year. On the right and left side, both fullbacks occasionally over-commit to aerial balls, leaving attackers swathes of space to charge toward the box. Covering midfielders should be aware of these tendencies and be able to adjust accordingly.  It’s a big ask, but having a vocal presence, either in goal or the backline, will help players be in the right place at the right time.

Still work to be done, but last Saturday’s draw was a much-improved performance after the loss in Birmingham. Getting both strikers on the score sheet is a fantastic lead-in to a trio of games at AutoZone Park. 901 FC’s first home match of the restart is this Saturday against Charlotte Independence, who has yet to play since the USL season resumed. For some live game updates that evening, catch me on twitter: @ciccispizza.

901 FC plays at home against Charlotte Independence this Saturday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m.

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