OK. I told you so. Field size is important. Atlanta United made the most of the roominess their new digs provided by apparently causing FC Dallas to get completely lost. They certainly couldn’t find the goal. Tata Martino praised the team’s performance, and it’s hard to argue that this was not the most complete game United have played to date. Going into the home stretch, that’s a very good sign.
That’s not to say that the team were not under some pressure. After all, having opened Bobby Dodd with a crushing loss, they must have felt the need to impress in the shiny new Benz. They did not disappoint. They took control of the game early, which we have not seen in a while, and never let go. As Joe Patrick pointed out, they killed off the game expertly and should be able to do going forward.
As to that extra room, 5 extra yards of length and 5 extra yards of width may not seem like much. But consider this: a typical back line is 4 players (sometimes 5 if a defensive midfielder drops back). On this field, that means that each defender has an extra 1.25 yards of length and width to cover. If you are, say, a speedy Miguel Almiron, what are you going to do with that extra space? That would be like giving Usain Bolt a 1-meter head start.
Let’s take a look at how that worked out by using my new favorite analytical tool. TiotalFootball has his spreadsheets; Parker Cleveland wields his crayon; I now go to the heatmaps. From whoscored.com, here are the comparative heatmaps for the front four of each team:
Note that Atlanta’s offense was slanted to the left. No surprise there; we’ve always been stronger down that side. Which means that Dallas must have done a terrible job scouting us, because they attempted to pressure us down their own right side. Note also that our front four covered far more distance: they got back in defense as well as attacking solidly. Dallas, in contrast, not only never got into Atlanta’s 6-yard box, they never tracked back into their own 18-yard box either.
Now, add in the outside backs:
This should give you an idea of how strong the Peachtree Press can be. Garza is of course a huge part of the attack on the left, but at the same time, they have to contend with Anton Walkes on the right, even if he doesn’t get as far forward. Note also the increased defensive strength on Atlanta’s side, and the utter lack of it for Dallas. We stretched them out, and they paid the price.
Now for the hard part, this week’s Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Every man on the team played well Sunday. For that reason, I struggled a while with assigning Man of the Match honors, and was really tempted not to hand them out this week. In the end, I decided to give them to Golden Spike winner Josef Martinez for making an absolute menace of himself, including his brilliant non-assist on Greg Garza’s goal. Special Mentions go to everyone else, and that includes the subs.
GK: Brad Guzan – 8. Dallas had 2 shots on target; Brad saved them both. He was dominant in the box all game. I was also surprised to see that his right foot is almost as strong as his left; I hadn’t noted that before.
RB: Anton Walkes – 7. Walkes actually managed to accumulate an Audi Index score of -105. That shocked me, but apparently he got dinged for losing 4 aerial balls, 5 unsuccessful passes in his own half and 8 in the attacking half. However, he also won 4 aerial balls, and had 37 successful passes (18 in attack, 19 at home). That sounds pretty solid to me.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 8. Had a total of 6 clearances, and was able to get much further forward than normal. Other than that, didn’t have too much to do, but if they don’t penetrate, you can’t defend, right?
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 8. I’m not sure you can call that a shot as such, and it’s rather comical that given the heroic saves Jesse Gonzalez made that a slow roller got past him. But, hey, they all count. Style points get you nothing. Obviously, LGP got really far forward, and was tasked with only 2 clearances. The yellow card was classic Geiger and therefore not worthy of a deduction.
LB: Greg Garza – 8. Got his second goal of the season, and two defenders scoring is very telling about how this game went. You can get an idea of Greg’s movement from the heatmaps above.
CM: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. The midfield general. He should play with a helmet on and a giant US flag at his back. Did virtually everything right, except the one foul pushing an attacker in the back (which some thought was not a foul at all. Well, all right, almost everyone in the stadium save me and Geiger).
CM: Carlos Carmona – 8. Are Jeff and Carlos the best defensive midfield pairing in the league? Michael Bradley and whoever plays as the fifth defender behind him (usually Drew Moor) might have something to say about that, but our boys have a strong case. A strong outing for Carmona.
CAM: Miguel Almiron – 9. Miggy absolutely loved the space at the Benz, and it showed. Usually, as goes Almiron, so goes Atlanta. He racked up a game-high Audi Index of 1214. This was a very strong showing, following up on a successful (from an individual perspective, at least) international break with Paraguay. The world is likely taking notice.
LW: Yamil Asad – 8. Asad did what Asad does. That is, play full out for 90 minutes, get fouled a lot, and be the distraction that Almiron and Martinez need. He is in fact the 4th most fouled player this season in MLS, at 3.3 per game. However, the top two in that category (Yoshimar Yotun and Mohammed Saeid) have only played 7 games between them. Other than that, it’s neck-and-neck between Asad and Nicolas Lodeiro at 3.4 per game.
RW: Tito Villalba – 8. Tito’s best performance in a while. As has become the norm, he was the first man subbed off in the 72nd minute, suggesting he may not be up to a full 90 for some reason that only Martino knows. However, in that short game he scored 838 on the Audi Index, almost as good as Miggy.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 9. Denied by the crossbar, denied by Gonzalez, denied by Matt Hedges, denied by Geiger. That was the first half. Obviously came back out for the second with something to prove. Well, he doesn’t have anything to prove really. But he scored within 30 seconds of the whistle, and contributed mightily on Garza’s goal to put the game away. He will destroy weaker defenses on this field. Who’s coming Wednesday? And Saturday?
SUB: Julian Gressel – 7. Came on for Villalba after 72 minutes. The game was already out of reach at that point, but Julian was solid in his 18 official minutes on the field.
SUB: Chris McCann – 7. Replaced Josef in an interesting move by Tata in the 80th minute, coming on in a clean-up role, I guess. Was equally as effective as Gressel.
SUB: Jacob Peterson – 8. Played garbage time, coming on for Miggy in the 89th minute. Except he wasn’t garbage at all, coming close to making it 4-0. The man is an excellent late game threat à la Alan Gordon.
COACH: Tata Martino – 8. Martino played this one to perfection. I’d love to know what he said to Pareja in that special beer room they built for him.
FANS: -1,000,000. I’ve had tinnitus since I was a teenager. It just got worse. A lot worse. Thanks, guys.
STADIUM: Mercedes-Benz – Unrateable. Wow. Just, wow. I mean…wow. Did I say “Wow”?