So, Bradley Wright-Phillips was suspended, and Tyler Adams was a late scratch. Missing those two players, it is hardly surprising that the New York Red Bulls had a somewhat substandard game.
Fortunately for them, Atlanta had an excruciatingly poor game.
United was coming off a solid 3-game winning streak, including a miracle win in San Jose. A CCL spot was on the line, and the Supporters’ Shield not far behind. The team should have been firing on all cylinders. Instead, they were lackluster and uninspired.
So what went wrong? Well, I think the game was probably lost before it started, and we can lay the blame squarely at the feet of Tata Martino. He went with age over youth. He went with a 3-4-2-1 over the 4-2-3-1. Poor decisions both. Not good choices for what should have been the game of the year in MLS.
It’s hard to say which was the poorer decision. Using a newish formation in a key matchup was hardly wise, and it’s difficult to understand what the thinking was behind the choice. New York’s press is admittedly vulnerable to the counter and catching the two centerbacks (Aaron Long and Tim Parker) in a potential 2-on-3 with Josef, Miggy and Tito may have seemed attractive. However, a back line with an average age of 32, supported by a 31-year-old wingback, was asking for trouble. And that’s with LGP clocking in at 26. On top of that, why play Jeff Larentowicz at right back, a position he has never played with Atlanta?
Aside from that, Atlanta were…disconnected may the best word. Passing was simply atrocious. The team completed a mere 75% of 366 passes (which I think are both season lows). The only good thing to be said about that is that New York completed just 71% of 284 passes. This was not an event for aficionados of the Beautiful Game. Joe Patrick has already mentioned that Atlanta did not complete a pass in the attacking half until 6:46 left in the first half. To back up how bad it was, here’s the first half passing map:
For comparison, here’s the Red Bulls’ map for the same half:
A lot of red all over. However, note that the first half was largely played in Atlanta’s defensive half. United even had 54.5% possession for the half. But here’s the thing: even with New York missing two key players, you cannot reasonably expect to absorb that team’s press for long and come away unbloodied. And let’s face it, the Red Bulls are very good at the press. On top of that, they played a very physical game (cutting off the counter at its knees). And why would you want to try that? Atlanta is just as good at the press as New York, after all. Play them straight up.
The heatmap was also odd:
New York’s side of the map looks more like an early stage game of Civilization than anything else. No obvious strategic pattern there. Atlanta’s side shows that not only were they kept out of the box, they had no penetration in central midfield. Utterly atypical and not a recipe for success.
This game simply did not live up to its billing and was hardly the showcase that MLS would have wanted out of it. Here’s another indication of how poorly it was played: the game’s top point-getter on the Audi Index was Brad Guzan with an underwhelming 379. His opposite number Luis Robles was #3 with 325. Only one attacking player made the top ten: Miguel Almiron at #10 with just 196.
So, with very little to work with, on to the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
I was sorely tempted not to give Man of the Match honors this week. However, stopping a PK will get you some credit and so Brad Guzan gets the nod. Being involved in all 3 goals will get you there fairly easily. No Special Mentions this week though.
GK: Brad Guzan – 6. Admittedly Kaku’s penalty kick was poorly struck, but stopping a PK is always good. Took a nasty knock on the Tim Parker goal and was clearly innocent of a foul on the PK that was called back (while we’re at it, the third team on the field didn’t exactly have a stellar outing either).
LB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 5. 2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 5 clearances and 4 blocks. He also had a shot. He also led the team in passes, with a miserable 45. However, only 75.6% of those were completed.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 4.5. Parky had 6 clearances and 2 interceptions to go with 79.6% passing accuracy on 44 passes. Not much different than LGP’s stats, but he looked a lot less lively and also picked up a pointless yellow. He’s been great as the team’s inaugural captain, but at this point I am pretty much convinced that both he and Jeff Larentowicz are playing beyond the expiration of their warranty.
RB: Jeff Larentowicz – 5. 1 tackle, 1 interceptions, 5 clearances and 1 block. 42 passes, 83.3% accuracy. About the same all across the back line. That is, they were busier than they should have been. Not good.
LW: Chris McCann – 2.5. In my opinion, he was lucky to get away with a yellow on the handball. That ball was headed for the back of the net. He also failed to cover Tim Parker adequately on the second goal (although from some angles it looked like McCann scored an own goal). McCann is simply not suited for the Atlanta style of play; he’s too slow and not adaptable.
DM: Eric Remedi – 5. Not a bad game as such, but simply unremarkable. Remedi was rather invisible for much of the game and contributed relatively little to either the attack or the defense.
DM: Darlington Nagbe – 5. I get bringing Ezequiel Barco on, but I do not get taking Nagbe out. True, he had a distinctly subpar 74.2% passing accuracy, but at least he was showing some interest in the game.
RW: Julian Gressel – 4.5. A very disappointing performance by comparison with…well, every other game this year more or less. Here’s his personal passing map:
Yeah, that’s not good.
LAM: Miguel Almiron – 5. A mere 44 touches. Worse, only 29 of those were passes. Worst, only 60.9% passing accuracy. Miggy was well off his standard and was never really got into in the game.
RAM: Tito Villalba – 4. Miggy was poor, but Tito was worse. 68.8% passing, but only 16 passes on 33 touches. If Miggy didn’t get into the game, Tito was kept completely out of it.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 5. A frustrating but thankfully shortened afternoon for Josef, who left in the 76th minute. He has now gone two games without scoring twice in the last five games. He had done that only once previously: in August last year when he failed to score against DC United and the Philadelphia Union 4 days apart.
SUB: Ezequiel Barco – 5. Replaced Nagbe in the 68th minute. Provided something of a spark for a while, and had an argument for a PK just before New York’s second goal, but ultimately was unable to lift a team that was underperforming all around.
SUB: Brandon Vazquez – 5. He did get into the box once, but otherwise was unable to do nothing. How could he with no service to speak of?
COACH: Tata Martino – 4. A very poor game plan. His decision not to use the third sub was also surprising.
DESTINY CONTROL: - 9. At least we still have it. And because that’s basically how many points it’s going to take.