Atlanta United struggled to put away its chances playing up a man for nearly the entire game Saturday night against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Eventually the Five Stripes found their scoring form, specifically through star striker Josef Martinez’s fourth career MLS hat trick, to vanquish Vancouver 4-1. Here’s what we learned from the win:
Anything less than three goals at Mercedes Benz Stadium feels underwhelming
We are so spoiled. This team is so fun, so dynamic, so attacking and so downright ruthless that BIG scorelines have become the norm at the Benz. Like, we scored seven once last year. SEVEN! There are MLS teams that don’t score that many goals in a month. Atlanta has only been held scoreless at MBS once — its playoff loss to Columbus Crew -- and even that game had an insane number of chances. This team is so dynamic at home and it will be interesting to see if they can carry this form with them on the road. With the Houston match seeming like an outlier at this point, the team’s upcoming road game against Minnesota United will be a decent barometer test of this team’s attacking potency.
VAR is joyless, frustrating, and it isn’t doing it’s job
What’s the line that’s been trotted out to us a bazillion times? It’s something about VAR correcting “clear and obvious errors.” Well, that’s not what it does. I mean, maybe occaisionally it clears up an obvious mistake, but typically MLS refs are using VAR to legislate the game — whether that’s determining whether contact was made on a play or even how severe that contact was. It’s ruling on actions that are anything but clear and obvious. It’s allowing refs to watch plays frame by frame — out of real speed context — and take the most drastic of actions. In this case, it was Vancouver’s Kendall Waston who was shown a red card and Atlanta awarded a penalty in the early stages. It very may well be an Atlanta player next time. This is not good.
Chris McCann is a perfectly serviceable left (wing) back
Seeing Greg Garza dropped in favor of Chris McCann for this match was pretty stunning considering Tata Martino is so reliant on his starting group. That said, it was at least heartwarming to know that the coaching staff understood that danger that Vancouver presents from dead ball situations, and that they needed to tweak the plan accordingly. Enter Chris McCann, who played very solidly in Garza’s stead. The biggest compliment you can pay McCann in this situation is that he wasn’t noticeable. That’s largely what you want out of your defenders, plus he was able to whip in a few dangerous crosses. It’s safe to say that left back, or left wing back, is McCann’s best position within this group. Kudos to him for stepping in after a few games out and putting in a performance like he’d never been away.
Atlanta United continues to lose concentration late in games
In what is a somewhat worrying trend, Atlanta is yet to keep a clean sheet this season and has now allowed its opposition goals late in the game. Luckily in both of these instances, the Five Stripes held 2+ goal leads. While the goals never came back to haunt Atlanta, it’s generally worry to see the team switching off. That’s not the mentality that championship teams have, and they need to correct that if they are to make a serious run for MLS Cup, or even the U.S. Open Cup. Things could’ve gotten worse for Atlanta Saturday night as Vancouver was presented with another chance through Brek Shea where he nearly made it 3-2.
Julian Gressel is making Barco’s return interesting
One of the revelations in the new 3-5-2 setup that Martino has trotted out the last two weeks is Julian Gressel. The German has been sensational at right wing back, maybe the team’s most effective player over the two-game stretch. That’s saying a lot when you consider the amount of talent stockpiled in this team. So the question is what do you do when Ezequiel Barco returns? In the 3-5-2, there are basically only 3 positions for outright attackers like Barco, and Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron and Tito Villalba are looking dangerous together. If Gressel was operating like a mere mortal, the answer would be pretty easy -- switch back to the 4-2-3-1. But the team is in in full flow right now, and might not be something that Martino will want to disrupt.