Martino wary of Villa, Moralez as Atlanta United prepare for NYCFC
Following Atlanta United’s disappointing 4-1 loss to Toronto FC on Decision Day presented by AT&T — a result that saw them lose the Supporters' Shield to the New York Red Bulls — "Tata" Martino is keen to see his team bounce back in the first leg of their Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs series against New York City FC this Sunday (7:30 pm ET | FS1, TSN, TVAS).
So how does Martino, who admitted that he had choice words for his side’s performance at halftime of Sunday’s loss, get his team feeling confident again?
“My role is to help the team see the forest and not just the trees,” he explained Friday through a translator. “The forest is that we had 69 points this season, a record number of away points, 21 wins, the most points over two years, a spot in Concacaf Champions League and scored the most goals this season. That's the positive. The negative is Sunday, and no one's hiding that. We didn't play well, but my job is to see the big picture.”
While Atlanta must bounce back mentally, Martino has another conundrum on his hands: stopping David Villa, Maxi Moralez and the NYCFC attack. Martino identified Moralez as the focal point of NYCFC’s attack.
“We have to be conscious of Moralez when we're attacking so that he's not in a position to receive an outlet pass and start their attack. When he's on the ball, we have to surround him,” said Martino.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, one of Atlanta’s defenders that will be crucial to stopping the league's strongest home team, knows his side will need to be sharp in the Bronx to return to Atlanta with a first-leg result they can feel good about.
“They have excellent players, starting in midfield, and they have very good forwards as well,” Gonzalez Pirez told reporters through a translator. “Villa is one of the best in the league at his position, Maxi Moralez is having a great season and [Ismael] Tajouri-Shradi is really dangerous going forward and he's been playing well for them. We know that we have to be up to the level of this game. They will make it difficult to defend, but we have to do our best to try to slow those guys down.”
After such a disheartening result last weekend, Atlanta’s players and coach are all saying the right things to facilitate a bounce-back performance. But do they really believe it?
"We'll see on Sunday,” said Martino.