Atlanta United has now had three 0-0 games this season, all of them on the road. Two were highly entertaining games. In case you don’t recall, the first one was against the Seattle Sounders back on March 31st. The second was a drearily dull affair against New England. Then there was this one.
The game started off in typical Five Stripes fashion, with some good offensive pressure and chances on goal. Then the Red Bulls took charge and put Atlanta on the defensive, and with the exception of a brief period early in the second half they more or less continued in that fashion until the final whistle.
The drama in the game was provided mostly by the goalkeepers, who both ended up with Save of the Week nominations (Brad Guzan is leading the vote, of course). Luis Robles is of course remembered by all Atlanta fans for his denials (especially of a Miguel Almiron chip) in the very first game of the season. Either one could have been used…no, I won’t go there.
As things were, both teams had something to play for, and in fact the game had the feel of a playoff game. Despite already having playoff spots locked down, each team was working to improve its final position. With the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire both winning Sunday, any effort by NYRB would ultimately have been fruitless, as those results sealed their fate as the 6th seed. For United, the difference was 4th versus 2nd. They ended up in 4th.
That sets up a critical game against Toronto FC this Sunday. Sydney Hunte has already gone through the various scenarios. What TFC decide to do is anyone’s guess. Pretty much all they have to play for at this stage is sole possession of the season points record (they are currently tied with the 1998 LA Galaxy at 68). Will they rest a few players ahead of the playoffs? Who knows. One thing is for sure: fans at the Benz will have one eye on the halo board or their phones as all games on Decision Day progress with simultaneous kickoffs. Oh, one more thing to think on: a win this Sunday would ensure home field in the MLS Cup game if Atlanta make it that far (the Vancouver Whitecaps failing to win in Portland would also work).
Anyway, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match honors were well-earned by Brad Guzan. In addition to the Save of the Week nod, he also was named to the bench for Team of the Week (behind the Dynamo’s Tyler Deric, who also had a heroic day). Special Mention goes to Jeff Larentowicz, who was a defensive wall all by himself.
GK: Brad Guzan – 9. OK, I’ve already gushed about Brad’s 3-save clean sheet performance. Not enough, yet. His diving left-hand save against the other Bradley on the field reminded me of this from my youth:
That’s England legend Gordon Banks stopping the one and only Pele in the 1970 World Cup, widely considered to be the greatest save of all time. That same game, by the way, also provided the greatest tackle of all time.
RB: Anton Walkes – 6. Anton was the Anti-Anton this weekend, with a much more defensive performance than usual. He had 58 touches on the day, mostly in the defending half, although his 41 passes were much more evenly distributed. Only one was a cross, and that was unsuccessful.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 7. Parky has put together a couple of very strong games. In this one, he had 6 clearances and an interception, and did not look vulnerable at all.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 6. LGP had 2 interceptions and 6 clearances. However, he got a yellow card with mere seconds left in the game. That earns a full point deduction, as he is now suspended for the final home game. Just a few seconds longer and he would have been clean for the year, as regular season yellow card accumulation does not carry over to the playoffs or the following season.
LB: Mikey Ambrose – 6. Mikey was the more advanced of the fullbacks, but was rather less active than Walkes. He also had an embarrassing foul throw called against him, something you should never see at this level.
CM: Jeff Larentowicz – 8. Jeff was Jeff. He produced 8 interceptions and 1 clearance, and was pretty much an impenetrable wall all by himself.
CM: Carlos Carmona – 7. C-Squared was also fairly strong, but in a much more physical way than Larentowicz. He was probably lucky not to get a yellow card for a sliding tackle just outside the penalty area that could easily have been deemed reckless.
CAM: Julian Gressel – 7. A very good game from Julian, who must be a lock for Rookie of the Year at this point. He still does not have that record-setting assist, though he came close at least once in this game. Also had 3 shots. However, Miggy he is not. Yet. Came off late after 89 minutes.
RW: Tito Villalba – 8. Tito almost put this game away early, and had 3 shots on the day, all of which could have scored, including two just either side of half-time. Despite the likely frustration, he looked like he was having fun out there. Subbed out after 84 minutes.
LW: Yamil Asad – 6.5. Probably lucky to get away with just a yellow card for a bizarre challenge on Felipe, who appears to be a magnet for Atlanta United feet. Other than that, he made a couple of key plays and had 2 shots.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 7. A very frustrating evening for Josef, who failed to connect on several good chances. Stormed off after 77 minutes in a rather strange fashion, ripping his shinpads off while still on the field and spraying pink strapping everywhere that remained visible the rest of the game. The good news is that he clearly wants to make an impact in every game he plays. The rating would be lower if it weren’t for some strong defensive play he contributed.
SUB: Kevin Kratz – 6. Didn’t really do very much while on the pitch other than one rather optimistic shot.
SUB: Jacob Peterson – N/R. Was never in a position to do anything, as Atlanta was essentially in bunker mode when he came on.
SUB: Kenwyne Jones – N/R. Ditto.
COACH: Tata Martino – 6. Not sure quite how to rate Tata for this one, to be honest. Just as much as this game was a pitchers’ duel between the keepers, it was also a chess match between the two coaches. However, Marsch had the upper hand mostly, with Tata apparently playing for the stalemate.