For the second time this season, Atlanta United played the supposedly almighty Toronto FC to a 2-2 stalemate. That means Atlanta is the only Eastern Conference team that TFC was unable to record at least one win against during the regular season. Moreover, neither game featured a full-strength United lineup. We were of course missing Josef Martinez for the first game, and, for part of the game, Yamil Asad, who, you may recall, was sent off as a result of a contentious quasi-video review. This past Sunday we were missing Greg Garza and Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez, and Miguel Almiron only made a substitute appearance late.
That bodes well for a potential playoff meeting. When and if that meeting occurs depends on several things. Obviously, having missed out on second place effectively by one lousy goal, the Five Stripes first have to get past a much improved Columbus Crew SC, who, to say the least, are playing with a chip on their shoulder. Atlanta handled the Crew easily in both meetings in the regular season, but the playoffs are an entirely different animal. Beyond that, the possibilities are complex, as already explained by our own Sydney Hunte. While an Atlanta-Toronto match-up would be great for a conference championship, my own preference is for them to meet in the next round, meaning that Toronto would have to come back south early next week while this game is still fresh in their minds. Especially the boos.
This was a highly entertaining game for all sorts of reasons. First, the boos directed at Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, which started well before the game itself. This was their first visit to a US-based opponent since the debacle in Trinidad, and that it was both a record crowd and a well-informed crowd meant that the displeasure of the fans was very evident. That Altidore taunted the crowd back after his goal suggested to me that he either didn’t get why he was being booed or didn’t care. Neither is good. Kudos to Sebastian Giovinco for his sense of humor with the beer-throwing, however. Which he proceeded to lose by scoring a golazo of a free kick.
Second, the play itself was electric. Both teams had numerous good chances and the game remained wide open until the final whistle.
Third, the video review that led to an Atlanta penalty kick. Only Sibiga and his VAR knew what they were looking at, since the ball remained in play for about 20 seconds after the handball by Drew Moor and actually ended up at the other end of the field. No one else had a clue.
Fourth, yet another record crowd. At some point United will max out that stadium and we won’t be able to report on it ever again.
Fifth, Atlanta played an unusual formation. Sometimes referred to as a 3-6-1, it is in effect a 3-3-3-1. As far as I can tell, that lineup is not used much outside Germany (Pep Gaurdiola used it with Bayern Munich). However, Marcelo Bielsa used it in the 2010 World Cup with Chile. That’s almost certainly where Tata got it from. The formation is designed for attacking strength, allowing for midfield dominance and ball possession. It seemed to work well, but a 3-man back line against Toronto’s offensive power was a gutsy call.
On to the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match honors go once again to Brad Guzan. Not often that a goalie who allowed two goals gets that, but his 3 saves on the day were epic. He earned his second straight Save of the Week nod as well. Special Mention goes to Anton Walkes; more on him below.
GK: Brad Guzan – 9. If only. He was so close to Giovinco’s free kick the ball probably cleaned the lint off his glove. But that kick was so perfectly placed it was ridiculous. Sometimes you don’t get the breaks, but it did not mar a masterful performance between the pipes.
RB: Michael Parkhurst – 7. Playing slightly out of position, Parky had a pretty good game up until he was forced to leave in the 83rd minute with what is hopefully a minor injury. Probably should have stuck closer to Altidore on the goal, but otherwise had 7 clearances and an interception.
CB: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. Played full-time on the back line, and racked up 4 clearances and 2 interceptions. Picked up a yellow card, but there’s no carryover to the playoffs, so who cares.
LB: Anton Walkes – 8. Anton was shifted over to the left wing for this game, despite having played on the right all season. He did extremely well, posting a team-high Audi Index of 500. That included 3 clearances, 3 interceptions , 88 total touches and 74 passes.
LM: Chris McCann – 7. Possibly his best game of the season. McCann looked very comfortable in this formation, and even got in two good shots.
CM: Carlos Carmona – 7. This was a more defensive game for C-Squared than he typically plays, again a function of the formation. He was essentially playing in Jeff Larentowicz’s normal role, and did a good job of it.
RM: Julian Gressel – 7. Much the same can be said for Julian as I just did for Carmona. He was playing on the more attacking side of the field and made a great combination with Tito Villalba. Unfortunately, he was unable to get that rookie assist record.
CAM: Kevin Kratz – 6. Kratz had been my choice to replace Almiron during his injury layoff, but in this game he just didn’t seem to be clicking very well. Replaced by Miggy after 61 minutes.
RW: Tito Villalba – 8. Tito has been the secret attacking threat all season for Atlanta. With both Miggy and Josef on the field, he almost gets forgotten and tends to find himself in acres of space on the right side. This game was no exception. He had 2 shots, and was the primary assist on Josef’s goal.
LW: Yamil Asad – 8. Probably the most important player we need to lock down for next season. Scored on the penalty kick, of course, and was generally a pest all game. Finished the season second-most fouled player after Nicolas Lodeiro.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. Another great goal, ending a two-game drought. Active as ever, and was very useful in defense too.
SUB: Miguel Almiron – 8. Came on to deafening roars of approval. And proceeded to look like he was never hurt at all. A very solid performance, including a secondary assist, and every United fan is breathing easier.
SUB: Bobby Boswell – 7. If only (again). This was Bobby’s first appearance in an Atlanta jersey, and may well be his last. But he made the most of it, and came agonizingly close to scoring the winning goal.
COACH: Tata Martino – 8. Once more proved that he is the maestro. A new formation and an excellent game plan. My only question is: why did he only use 2 subs?