All About Anton – with Atlanta United Radio 92.9 The Game
Jason Longshore and Jarret Smith from Atlanta United Radio and Soccer Down Here talks to In The Stand Sport about Portsmouth new loan signing, Anton Walkes.
In The Stand Sport carries on our series on Pompey’s new January signings. You can read my article on Connor Ronan with Wolves Fancast and Paul D Lewis.
As soon as the Walkes signing was announced, I wanted to find out more about Pompey’s new player. A quick glance at his Twitter showed Walkes last season on-loan at MLS side Atlanta United. It looked like an incredible opportunity for a young player on loan. Certainly more glamorous than travelling to Pompey’s last away fixture Fleetwood.
Walkes, who is currently on loan from Tottenham to Portsmouth had clearly made a big step in his career at Atlanta. Tottenham fans knew little about him, as is often the way with Premier League academy players.
However, there are two guys from Atlanta who have seen Walkes in first-team action in the rapidly growing MLS in the USA. From the other side of the Atlantic, Atlanta United Radio duo Jason Longshore and Jarrett Smith reveal everything you need to know about Anton Walkes.
In The Stand Sport – Walkes attacking instinct has really stood out in his first few matches. He even scored on his debut! What are his strengths Pompey fans should look out for?
Jason Longshore – Walkes brought lots of energy to the right back position once he replaced Tyrone Mears in mid-season last year. He scored twice for Atlanta, once with his head on a corner and another on a nice half-volleyed finish. I feel like the attacking side of his game is still growing, but he throws himself into it and is willing take chances. Walkes does not play with fear.
Jarrett Smith – Walkes came to Atlanta and we thought he was going to be a centre back substitute but he slid out to the right and grew into each game and grew into the season. His athleticism is great, and while he struggled at times finding his chemistry with the attacking player’s things progressed every game. Walkes is more than capable of putting that strength and athleticism to work on set pieces. Atlanta plays a 4-2-3-1 with both fullbacks being asked to get upfield aggressively in attack, and as his confidence grew so did the danger he showed. Walkes’ work-rate was great, especially when getting back into defensive shape. His strength is impressive and while he would pick up some fouls he did a really good job riding the edge between fouls and legal aggressive play most times. Character-wise I don’t recall any clubhouse issues between Walkes and any players.
In The Stand Sport – Does he have any areas in his game you think he can improve on?
Jason Longshore – He had some challenges dealing with crosses when he was pushed into the middle, Dom Dwyer gave him fits in a September match with Orlando. As with many young players, he has a tendency to switch off at times. His focus for the full 90-minutes is a key part of the game for him to improve upon.
Jarrett Smith – Walkes can slide inside and place centre-back as I mentioned, but when called upon for Atlanta he was less than stellar, giving up an own goal in the clubs first match. He struggled in the air defensively with his positioning and was at fault on a few goals against Atlanta’s biggest rival (Orlando City)
To Walkes’s credit, he apologised to the fans for his performance soon after.
He played as a fullback for Atlanta out of need more than anything. Walkes must work on his distribution, especially crossing the ball.
In The Stand Sport – Walkes has played at right-back this season for Pompey. Do you feel this is his best position?
Jason Longshore – I think so, although we never had a chance to see him in a holding midfield role like he played with Tottenham’s academy. He played some centre back for Atlanta and it seemed to be more of a struggle for him. At right back, he was able to use his athleticism and be more effective. Even if he was rough around the edges, the defence improved upon his inclusion and he became more comfortable going forward with each week. Tata Martino’s system asks a lot out of his outside backs, and Walkes seemed to thrive in it.
Jarrett Smith – Based on what we have seen in Atlanta, right back has been the best fit for Walkes. He very good when at his best, and passable when not at his best. I’m curious if he sees time at holding midfielder in the future but as of now, I would call him a right back.
In The Stand Sport – What did the fans think of Walkes last season? Were you hoping to sign him on a permanent deal?
Jason Longshore – Once Atlanta zeroed in on Franco Escobar of Newell’s Old Boys, Tata Martino’s former club in Argentina, it was obvious that Walkes would not be returning on a permanent deal. I think fans would have welcomed him back if the option had been presented. The club went on a nice run of defensive performances when he became part of the starting lineup. His hard work was appreciated by the Atlanta United fans.
Jarrett Smith – I would not have minded in the least. It appears Atlanta has grabbed an upgrade in Franco Escobar but Walkes won over many fans in Atlanta and I believe many would have loved to see him stay even if not in a starting role. If I’m not mistaken Spurs resigned
In The Stand Sport – Portsmouth is hoping to qualify for the League One Playoffs this season. How did Walkes perform for Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Playoffs against Columbus?
Jason Longshore – Walkes’ performances down the stretch for Atlanta really impressed me. He had the poor performance against Orlando where he was at fault on two of the three goals allowed. Walkes issued an apology via social media, and then played well from there on out. He was one of the best players on the field for Atlanta in the playoff match with Columbus.
Jarrett Smith – Walkes did nothing to really stand out in the matchup but was solid defensively when called upon. That said he did not do much on the offensive end when involved.
In The Stand Sport – According to ESPN Atlanta’s MLS average attendance record was 48,200 fans per game. How did Walkes deal with the pressure of playing in front of such a large crowd?
Jason Longshore – He seemed to thrive in the atmosphere. Walkes really seemed to enjoy the city of Atlanta and its fans.
Jarrett Smith – His first game was on The Fourth of July against San Jose, in arguably the most exciting game of the year. He handled the pressures well and like most of the team, seemed to feed off of the rabid crowds at Atlanta matches.
In The Stand Sport – Atlanta was the first expansion team to reach the playoffs in their inaugural season since 2009. What are your expectations for the team for the 2018 season?
Jason Longshore – With the moves Atlanta United has made in the offseason, they are expecting to compete for trophies in 2018.
Adding former Celtic target Darlington Nagbe from within MLS and signing Argentine playmaker Ezequiel Barco for a reported $15M signal the intent to be among the best in the league. Toronto will be tough to knock off, they had the best season in MLS history in 2017. However, Atlanta has the attacking firepower to do it if the defence can provide enough cover.
Jarrett Smith – The expectations in Atlanta for many people are trophies. There are three trophies available: U.S. Open Cup (not unlike the FA Cup, open to all teams across the country), Supporters Shield (best record in MLS) and MLS Cup (winning the playoffs)
If Atlanta does not win at least one of those I’m sure there will be a disappointment. They were the 4th best team in the league in year one and improved at three positions.
The city of Atlanta is one with a miserable sports history and Atlanta United is viewed as the city’s best chance at a title in the near future. They carry the hopes of a lot of people on their shoulders.
In The Stand Sport – Is there anything else you can tell Pompey fans?
Jason Longshore – I was incredibly impressed with Walkes’ professionalism last season. As a young player coming into what had to be a strange situation for him, an expansion team that is starting from scratch, he seemed to throw himself into the challenge. His hard work obviously impressed Tata Martino, as Walkes replaced seasoned veteran Tyrone Mears at right back. And then after the poor performance against Orlando, Walkes earned the respect of Atlanta United fans when he publicly took the blame on social media.
Also, his former teammate Brandon Vazquez said Walkes was the worst FIFA player on the squad last year. Lol.
Jarrett Smith – I would say be patient with Walkes. He is young and he is probably going to have some amazing games and some below-average games mixed in. As he spends more time at fullback I would expect him to be more lethal getting forward. He gained a strong following here and embraced the city in return. I hope y’all experience the same.
In The Stand Sport – I personally support the Philadelphia Union. Can you see the Union making the playoffs this season?
Jason Longshore – Philadelphia is reportedly closing in on a much-needed playmaker. Depending on how long it takes him to develop chemistry with the squad, it is possible this year. The Eastern Conference is going to be very difficult in 2018. I feel like Toronto, Atlanta, and NYCFC has separated themselves from the rest. Orlando has had the most aggressive offseason and should make the playoffs for the first time. DC United has made several key additions and should get a boost from moving into a new stadium. New York Red Bulls, Columbus, and Chicago all made the playoffs in 2017 and have squads that could see them return. Philadelphia will have to figure out a way to bolster their offence in 2018. Acquiring David Accam from Chicago is a nice first step, but I’m not sure if that’s enough.
Jarrett Smith – The Union made a big addition to David Accam and will be fascinating to watch. They already have striker CJ Sapong who finally made some United States National Team camps and does an incredible amount of work. If Philly can get someone to step up as a #10 they can be a playoff team. Their biggest hurdle will be the fact that they play in the Eastern Conference with the likes of Atlanta, NYCFC, defending champions Toronto and arguably the most improved team in the league: Orlando City. It will be an uphill battle to get into the top half of that conference but sneaking into the playoffs as a 5 or 6 seed is certainly possible if things break right.
In The Stand Sport – What are you currently working on covering Atlanta?
Jason Longshore – I am the colour commentator for the Atlanta United Radio Network. I also will be calling matches for the new reserve team, Atlanta United 2. Our daily internet radio show, Soccer Down Here, airs live from 9-11am Eastern Standard Time at blogtalkradio.com/SoccerDownHere. It goes out as a podcast as well.
Jarrett Smith – I currently work at Atlanta United’s radio affiliate 929 The Game writing articles and working on a podcast called Off the Woodwork.
I also am part of a show called Soccer Down Here covering soccer at all levels across the southern United States.
Many thanks to our friends Jason Longshore and Jarrett Smith at Atlanta United Radio and Soccer Down Here. Please check out their show @SoccerDownHere and tune in to 92.9 The Games for all Atlanta Sports coverage.
Jason Longshore: @Longshoe
Jarrett Smith – @Jarrett_Smith
Thanks again to Andrew Hurdle at Losing My Site for the amazing photos.Andrew Hurdle – @Hurdle88 http://lms-magazine.co.uk/