I’ve spent most of the weekend compiling advanced data from Opta to answer how effective Atlanta United was on the road the past four games (ok not really, I have the worst math skills of anyone who went to Georgia Tech and used such analytic tricks as division, educated guessing, and addition to put this together but the numbers are still telling). The team embarked on a 11,000 mile+ road trip spanning most of the month of April. In that time, United had two thrilling draws, a crushing loss, and a deserved if not disjointed win in the Rockies. The Five Stripes earned five points in four games along the way, but how should we evaluate this? Let’s look at some numbers:
Let’s start at the beginning, it seems like it was a long, long time ago but the away matches started with the dour news that Atlanta would be missing Josef Martinez, remember him?, with a quad injury. Tito Villalba and Kenwyne Jones started two games a piece in his place netting three goals from the striker position. That isn’t the five Josef scored in three games, but it is decent production from your plan B strikers.
Away points are crucial in MLS, last season Portland failed to win a game away from home and missed the playoffs. This year Montreal, who made the playoffs in 2016, started four of their first five games on the road and earned two points from them. By any metric 5 points on the road is a good haul in four MLS games. It is even better that two of them came against the MLS Cup finalists last year.
Also, just for fun 5 is the same number of points that the Colorado Rapids have after, get ready to laugh at them, losing to Minnesota United on Sunday. Quick reminder that this team was second in the Western Conference last year. All Pablo Mastroeni has been able to do after losing his starting center back this year is throw tire after tire on the fire that the Rapids season is becoming.
42 is a lot of things, for example it is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. For our purposes it is usually a good indicator of if a team is going to make the playoffs. I dusted off my TI-83 and if Atlanta got 5 points from every 4 games this year the team would have just over 42 points to end the year. Last season, 42 points would have tied United on points for the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs with the tie breaker being goal differential (and let’s be real, we aren’t going to have a problem with that as a tie break). If the team can continue this kind of pace on the road and take care of business at home, making the playoffs should be a certainty.
2 Red Cards
Both Yamil Asad and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez got a referee mandated trip to the showers in Canada with no pancakes on the way, they are very strict north of the border, and Atlanta had to play a man down in both games in maple leaf land. In the Toronto game, having 10 men meant trying to hold on to a draw with all the team had and they did it.
Against Montreal, it meant deciding not to care about having 10 men and still imposing their style against the Impact to go at goal for the second half to try and win the game. Obviously the team lost on a last second goal but coach Martino thought they played the best game of the year and sometimes soccer is designed to break your heart.
4 Starting Lineups
Due to the red card to Yamil Asad, injuries to Jacob Peterson, Tyrone Mears, and Josef Martinez, and rotation due to the international break Tata Martino played a different lineup in each game. The results show that the team has the depth to play Martino’s style over the long hot summer and the late season double game weeks that will congest the Atlanta schedule like a barbecued highway.
1 Rescinded Red Card
The rescinded red card is like getting an apology letter from the thief who stole your stuff, didn’t get arrested, and still sold what they took to buy Kid Rock concert tickets or something - at least we had LGP for the RSL game because we clearly needed him.
1 93rd Minute Goal
This really sharpened the blade of the red card as it pierced United fan’s hearts in the Montreal game. Without that late goal the team would be undefeated on the road this year and we would be talking about six points in four games.
That’s the total number of goals that United scored on the road. Why is that important? Because now I get to make fun of other teams. To put that in perspective, DC United, Sporting Kansas City, and the Colorado Rapids have scored less goals all season than Atlanta has in the past four weeks. While those clubs are setting high marks for futility, United has shown it can score just about anywhere.
That’s how many goals Tito Villalba scored in the last four games. It sounds good, but I think he may be one of the most maddening players for United fans as the season goes forward. He has amazing pace and can bury a shot with the best of them, but his 1v1 skills need work, his touch fails him at times, and it looks like his decision making isn’t always the best when he gets near goal. That said, I will take every single one of those goals and hope he proves me wrong about the other stuff.
1 Successful Road Trip
Any road points are good in MLS - the team just spent the past four straight games on the road and a lot could have gone wrong. United could have folded after Asad and LGP got red cards. The team could have succumbed to altitude in Salt Lake City and an attack from the small trash talking creatures that live in Kyle Beckerman’s hair and let in a late goal - instead Brandon Vazquez put RSL away for good. The squad rotation that the team was forced into could have upset the chemistry of the team but it actually showed how deep and strong the Atlanta bench is.
So yes, this was a successful road stretch. But we aren’t done yet. While it could be said that United had four in a row away, another way to say that is Atlanta is playing six of seven away until May 20. After facing DC at home the team is back on the plane riding coach to New York and Portland, two teams playing some of the best soccer in MLS this year.