OK, let’s put this one in some context:
- Teams in playoff contention went a less than spectacular 3-4-1 against eliminated teams on Sunday.
- Atlanta United still has home field advantage in the playoffs except in the conference championship, but gets it back if the New York Red Bulls stumble.
- The city of Los Angeles had a worse day than Atlanta: LAFC managed to drop out of a first round bye and the LA Galaxy found a way to blow a 2-goal lead and will miss the playoffs entirely.
- FC Dallas also had a bad day. They lost to the Colorado Rapids (who finish with a better record than Orlando City) and fell to 4th place, putting them in the harder of the two first round games (and avoiding a road game only by virtue of the Portland Timbers also losing to the eliminated Vancouver Whitecaps). Two weeks ago, they led their conference. But then, that’s nothing new for them: last season, they managed to drop from first place after 17 weeks to out of the playoffs entirely.
- The Red Bulls won their third Supporters’ Shield in six seasons. That, by the way, is the sum total of the trophies they have accumulated over 23 seasons, and it took them 17 years to get the first one. In 2013, they lost to Houston in the conference semifinals and in 2015 to Columbus in the conference final. No other club has won more than one Supporters’ Shield without also winning an MLS Cup. Of the three teams that did that, 2 no longer exist (the remaining team is FCD). History is not on their side.
- Sporting Kansas City’s Seth Sinovic probably had the worst individual day. He was given a red card for a DOGSO handball in the 60th minute of the game against LAFC and will be the only player to miss the first game of the playoffs due to discipline (yellows do not carry over from the regular season into the playoffs or the next season, but reds and Disciplinary Committee suspensions do).
- Taking that a step further, over 22 MLS seasons, the Supporters’ Shield winner has also won MLS Cup just 7 times.
- The Seattle Sounders, in contrast, had a good day. They had the good fortune to be scheduled at home against the worst team in the league, the San Jose Earthquakes, and courtesy of FCD losing to the (then) second-worst team, jumped from 4th to 2nd and now skip the midweek knock-out game. The Sounders also had the best second half-season in MLS history, going 14-2-1, turning around a 4-9-4 start.
- Arguably, the best day was had by Real Salt Lake. Looking almost certain to miss out on a playoff spot, they were instead able to enjoy their bye week sitting at home watching the Galaxy choke. They will now go into the knockout round on 10 days rest.
- Finally, at least Atlanta United had a better international trip than the Jacksonville Jaguars.
All that aside, this was not the way the season was supposed to end for Atlanta. Book-ending the season with 4 goals allowed was not in the script. However, back at the beginning of the season, the Five Stripes followed that embarrassing loss with a 4-game win streak scoring 13 goals, and also scored 24 goals over the next 10 games going 8-1-1. Hopefully Atlanta can shake this howler off in similar fashion.
This time, at least, Atlanta did not allow the 4 goals in the first half. Rather, 2 of them occurred late when the team had gone YOLO and were pushing for a result. But that’s putting lipstick on a pig. This game was, after all, a stinker. Despite out-possessing, out-passing and out-shooting Toronto FC, the Five Stripes never really looked in command of the game. Lucas Janson’s early goal got into their heads and it was downhill from there.
The game was so poorly played that it almost defies any kind of tactical analysis. The 4-3-3 formation was played more as a 3-5-2 and it just plain didn’t work. No, check that - it was a disorganized mess, so much so that there are few positives to draw from the game. It also didn’t help that Miguel Almiron, Andrew Carleton and George Bello were all unavailable due to injuries, and Tito Villalba was deemed not fit to play all 90 minutes. Then, with Chris McCann sustaining an early injury, we saw Greg Garza play his first game since May 20th. The good news on that front is that he looked fit, if rusty.
Enough of trying to find positives where there really are none. Here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player ratings:
Man of the Match is Darlington Nagbe, who stood out as a bright spot in an otherwise dismal afternoon. Special Mention goes to Julian Gressel, who was trying hard to get things going.
GK: Brad Guzan – 5. I’m not one to ding goalkeepers harshly for goals scored, but in this case, Brad could have done something more to help out.
LB: Chris McCann – 3. Played only 28 minutes before getting subbed out due to injury. He touched the ball 20 times and had just 1 block. One key pass in the first minute, but after that, nothing.
SUB: Greg Garza – 5. Greg’s return was one of the few bright spots in this game. He looked fit at least, but was not able to produce anything offensively, booting 5 crosses into the box, all unsuccessful. 4 tackles, 1 block and 1 clearance.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 4. Let’s face it; it was a horrendous afternoon for the central defence. LGP had 1 tackle, 3 interceptions and 3 clearances, but that hardly makes up for the fact that the back line was Swiss cheese. He had 95 touches on the ball, but did relatively little with it.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 4. Ditto for Parky. 3 tackles and 3 interceptions. Not much else to say.
RB: Franco Escobar – 4. Overall, Escobar looked as if he was trying to make something happen. However, if you manage passing accuracy of just 68.9%, that means mostly bad things happened.
LM: Eric Remedi – 4. 94 touches of the ball, with 83.1% passing accuracy. Again. not good. All of these stats are tending to suggest that Atlanta was trying to force the game, right?
CM: Jeff Larentowicz – 3. Easily Jeff’s worst game as a Five Stripe, and he was justifiably removed at half-time, whether for tactical reasons or otherwise.
RM: Darlington Nagbe – 6. Hardly an impressive rating, but in this game it’s a standout. Pretty much the only player on the team who seemed to know what he was doing.
FWD: Ezequiel Barco – 4. Played 70 minutes, and occasionally showed some inspiration. He was fouled 3 times in the game, which indicates TFC were gunning for him. He finished the season averaging 2.5 fouls incurred per game, tied for 8th in the league.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 5. Josef was caught offside 3 times in the game, including an inches-tight call on the play that led to Gressel putting the ball in the net. He also hit the upright on a gimme. However, he did get his 50th MLS goal, reaching that mark in 54 games, 15 games faster than any other player, and putting the crown on his 31-goal Golden Boot season. He also finished with 0.96 goals per 90 minutes, ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at 0.92. With that worthy failing to get the Galaxy into the playoffs, Josef’s MVP award is all but secured.
FWD: Julian Gressel – 5. One in the net called back and one off the crossbar made it a personally frustrating game for Julian. Other than Nagbe, he was the only member of the team who didn’t look completely out of sorts.
SUB: Tito Villalba – 4. Replaced Larry at half-time in an attempt to rescue the game, but was unable to produce. A miserable 62.5% passing accuracy isn’t going to cut it.
SUB: Romario Williams – 4. Played 20 official minutes, but really wasn’t able to create anything. The game was effectively lost already at that point anyway.
COACH: Tata Martino – 4. If this wasn’t his worst game as the Atlanta boss, it was damn close.
TRAVELING FANS – 10. For enduring a performance that was as bad as the weather.