I’m still a little bit in shock. It wasn’t supposed to end this early. Well, actually, by rights, it was supposed to end last weekend. But Atlanta United have shown complete disregard for the record books all season. So much so, I was expecting to do at least four more of these after this game. However, it’s tough to beat a team 3 times in one year (except…ugh, no). The Five Stripes just couldn’t quite manage it this time.
It was a great game though. In fact, MLSsoccer.com is already calling it a “playoff classic”, and I think the test of time will bear that out. For sure it was a way better game than the 0-0 yawner that closed last season out. The result was also, I think, fair. The Columbus Crew put on a great performance. As did Atlanta, of course. A stalemate was a reaonable score after 120 minutes, phantom offsides and unlikely bounces off posts notwithstanding. A stalemate, indeed. Take a look at the heatmap:
Slightly more defensive on the Atlanta side (and reflecting the 12% possession advantage), but as close to a mirror-image as you’ll find.
And so it came down to kicks from the mark (penalty shootout is not the official term; they ram that into our heads in referee school). I hate those. I’m English, which means I am used to seeing my team lose them. The England senior team has a record of 1-7 in shootouts (the world’s worst), and I’ve seen every one of them. All English national teams combined have a record of 2-12. As time ticked up to 120 minutes, a feeling of inevitability came over me. And so it was.
Despite the outcome, I don’t hate Zack Steffen. Far from it, in fact. He was yet another MLS keeper who put up a sterling performance against our guys and deserves a ton of credit. There’s no question but that he was the best player on the field last night (8 saves!), and Brad Guzan wasn’t that far behind. He has some competition, but we can expect to see him in a national team jersey in the not too distant future (he already has 30 junior caps).
And so, for the final time this season, the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match honors go to Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez. Man, we missed him on Sunday. Special Mentions go to Brad Guzan, who continually proves himself one of the best keepers in the league, and also to Michael Parkhurst, for one of the best goalpost cam highlights you’ll get to see.
GK: Brad Guzan – 9. 4 saves. That would be epic if not for Steffen doubling him up. Obviously, no fault attaches to him for the three scores in the shootout.
RB: Anton Walkes – 8. Back to his normal position in Martino’s scheme, and did very well. 4 tackles, 4 clearances, a ton of touches and passes, and a shot he clearly wished he had back. Came off half way through extra time, looking like he was cramping up or suffering some other leg problem.
CB: Jeff Larentowicz – 8. 2 shots; what would Sam have done? Forced into a back line start by Parkhurst’s apparently not-too-serious injury, Jeff manned up as usual and did the job we all know he can do. Solid all over the field.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez – 9. LGP amassed 116 touches and 94 passes, of which 92 were successful. A good chunk of those were in the attacking half, too, including 2 shots. Also made some great tackles and was, generally speaking, a beast.
LB: Chris McCann – 7. Another 2 shots from the back line. McCann played a very aggressive attacking game, but proved he can actually run getting back into position a couple of times. Came off after 109 minutes.
RM: Carlos Carmona – 8. Played a moderately attacking game last night, racking up 38 good passes in the attacking half (and 31 more in the defensive half). He was actually fouled 4 times, in a rare reversal of roles.
LM: Julian Gressel – 7. A rough end to a stellar rookie season, Julian probably shouldn’t have been on the field for the kicks. He took what looked like a game-ending knock after putting in a solid performance that included another 2 shots.
CAM: Miguel Almiron – 8. Miggy had a team-high Audi Index of 943. He was clearly gassed late in the game and his effectiveness suffered. Nevertheless, he put on some highlight reel moves. Will the Europeans come knocking in January, check books in hand?
RW: Tito Villalba – 8. Found a ton of space on numerous occasions and was a constant attacking threat. Nothing new, in other words. Scored Atlanta’s only goal in the shootout. All in all, a great season.
LW: Yamil Asad – 8. Looked to be having a strong game when he came out after 68 minutes in a surprising move. He had attempted 2 shots and won balls all over the place in the attacking half, but obviously Tata saw something he needed to change.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. Tried his damnedest, but like everyone else, just couldn’t find the back of the net. Came out with 6 minutes left in another surprising move, although it was clear those legs didn’t have much left in them. What will he do in a full season next year? This is the stuff dreams are made of.
SUB: Michael Parkhurst – 8. Replaced Yamil Asad in what was a headscratcher for most observers. Those who doubted his fitness to finish out the game were worrying over nothing, though. But “Captain Clearance”? Please, no.
SUB: Tyrone Mears – 5. Played 15 official minutes, in which he did almost nothing, connecting on 3 of 4 passes.
SUB: Mikey Ambrose – N/R. Came on 11 minutes left and was not in a position to affect the game in any material fashion.
SUB: Jacob Peterson – N/R. Obvoulsy a desperation sub with 6 minutes left, Peterson was, for once, not The Answer.
COACH: Tata Martino – 7. I’m really not sure how to rate Tata for this one. Managed the game as a whole well, but did he have the right guys on the field for the shootout? Hard to say.
DSS READERS – 10. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to write for you all this year. Stick with us through the off-season and into next year, because we’re not going anywhere.
AND WITH THAT BEING SAID:
Keep an eye on my posts here over the next couple of months, and on my Twitter feed. Important stuff forthcoming…