Last week we spent some time analyzing the 3-5-2 formation, both in how well it worked for Atlanta United, and then in more general terms looking at its strengths and weaknesses. The Vancouver Whitecaps must have read those articles, because they came to town with the brilliant idea of offsetting the Atlanta formation with their very own 3-5-2. They proceeded to highlight two of the major weaknesses of the set-up. First, it’s clearly not going to work well when one of your 3 center backs decides he wants an early shower. Second, it’s not a good idea to wait some 35 minutes to bring a defender in (Brek Shea) and in the meantime rely on Felipe to cover that hole and keep his cool.
As to the red card, this was in my opinion a good use of VAR (as was the red issued to Clint Dempsey on Sunday for a similar offense committed in an almost identical position). Whitecaps fans didn’t think so, of course, and proceeded to entertain me greatly late Saturday night into early Sunday morning with their brilliant analysis on the MLS Twitter timeline. The general objections were that 1) Ismail Elfath hates the Whitecaps (he doesn’t); 2) Kendall Waston is unfairly treated because he is so tall (he isn’t); 3) the video review took 5 minutes and that means it obviously wasn’t “clear and obvious” (it didn’t and yes it was); 5) Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is a known diver (well, maybe); and 5) Atlanta get more than their share of reds shown to opponents (yeah, really).
With the Waston red card, Vancouver threw away most of what was left of their vaunted height advantage. Having left the 6’3” Kei Kamara at home, and keeping the 6’3” Shea on the bench until half time, seeing the 6’5” Waston leave after 9 minutes of actual play meant that they were now a bunch of normal guys instead of a basketball team. Waston also took with him their major set piece threat.
In any event, Atlanta was already dominating the game while it was still even up. Franco Escobar really ought to have scored on the play that led to the penalty kick anyway, and nothing much changed after that. In the end, Vancouver were lucky that the Five Stripes finishing wasn’t perfect. If it had been, this would have been another slaughter of epic proportions.
To illustrate that dominance, consider this from whoscored.com:
These are the average positions of each player throughout the game. Obviously Vancouver were playing on the back foot, with only Anthony Blondell (#9) in anything approaching an attacking position. Atlanta, in contrast, pressed hard all night. This also demonstrates the adaptability of the 3-5-2; your DSS writers have noted that this looks very much like a high-pressing 4-3-3.
Overall, games like this are difficult to analyze and evaluate. With the sending off, every Atlanta player immediately had 10% more space to work in and therefore a much easier time of it. So, we ended up with a massive 21 shots, 72.3% possession, 93% passing accuracy, and, unusually for Atlanta, 28 crosses. Indeed, we pummeled the Vancouver box from distance:
Red crosses are unsuccessful, green are successful, so the incompletes far exceeded the connections. No surprise there: crosses (and corners) are a low percentage play option, but that is overcome by sheer weight of numbers. Quantity has a quality all of its own. Also, MLS and Opta appear to consider short corners to be crosses, which doesn’t seem entirely justified. Note that, with the exception of 5 from Miguel Almiron (#10), these were all from the wingbacks, Chris McCann (#16) and Julian Gressel (#24). Just as the 3-5-2 is set up, in other words.
Without further ado, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
I caught some flack for underrating Julian Gressel last week, and I’ll admit that was not entirely undeserved on my part. So this week I have the opportunity to atone for that error, and will assign him our Man of the Match honors for a very busy and effective evening’s work. Josef Martinez, in a very easy decision gets a Special Mention for his hat trick.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. Guzan actually had to make a save this week, unlike against D.C., and that, combined with the laughable late goal by Erik Hurtado continues to indicate some shakiness in the Atlanta defense. Other than that, he has lately been relegated to a sweeper role (23 passes on the night). Gets extra credit for getting in Felipe’s face post-game.
CB: Franco Escobar – 7. Franco continues to work his way into the team. He nearly scored early, and was generally effective in what little defense he was called on to do. Took a nasty knock from Guzan late (again highlighting that there may be some communication problems to iron out on the back line) but appears to be OK. He led the team with 91 passes, about half of which were in the attacking end.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 7. Parky is 5’11”. I suspect that may be generous, as he looks smaller than that to me. That makes him 2 inches shorter than LGP, and well under that elevated Vancouver average. Still, he is thriving as the center centerback (if that’s a thing). Got hung up a bit on the Hurtado goal., though, which shows that the 3-5-2 can be vulnerable on the counter. In this case, the long ball.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez –7. Best game of the season by far. He drew the foul on Waston, even though he’s about the only Atlanta player Waston would even have to reach up to hit on the head. No boneheaded goofs this week; a solid all-round performance.
LWB: Chris McCann – 7. A surprise choice for the line-up, despite being both taller than the expected Greg Garza (not difficult) and also Irish. He went on to have probably his best game in an Atlanta shirt. Came close to scoring on a full volley, and bombed balls in with abandon (see above).
LM: Miguel Almiron – 8. Miggy’s game lacks very little, except, right now, his finishing. He literally ran rings around the Whitecaps players and totally owned the midfield. He took 8 of Atlanta’s 21 shots, though, and amazingly managed to remain scoreless on the night.
CM: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. Like his fellow oldster, Jeff appears to love the current formation and is doing a sterling job covering the middle. He was pulled after 60 minutes, most likely to protect him from a second yellow. No rating adjustment for that yellow though, as it is cancelled out by the stomp on Felipe’s foot. Under other circumstances that could easily have been a second yellow, but since it was Felipe it was in fact a service to humanity.
RM: Darlington Nagbe – 7. Darlington demonstrated in this game what he can do when given both space and the authority to roam. Took 2 shots, one of which was from inside the box, which, as we all know, he never does. Got into it with Felipe. More extra credit.
RWB: Julian Gressel – 9. Oddly, Julian’s Audi score was a relatively low 374. This is because he got docked 270 points for 15 unsuccessful passes. Most of those were crosses, as we have already seen. Which suggests that the Audi Index may be a total crock. Not sure how the cross that led to Aaron Maund’s own goal counts in that regard; technically it was both unsuccessful (it didn’t reach an attacker) and successful (it resulted in a goal) at the same time. But he had so much ability to move it seemed as if Vancouver either opted to leave him uncovered when they went down a man or simply forgot he was there.
FWD: Tito Villalba – 7. Rather less of an influence in this game than against D.C., but still a very creditable outing. He took 3 shots, but had a relatively low 31 touches and 19 passes. Left the game after 78 minutes.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 9. PK, chip, header. Another hat trick. He now has four in his MLS career, which is a mere 23 games. That puts him on a par with Edson Buddle, Mamadou Diallo, Cobi Jones, Robbie Keane, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips. He is one short of tying the reord of 5, which is co-owned by Landon Donovan (who else), Sebastian Giovinco (well, yes, him else), Stern John and Diego Serna. Needless to say, he is getting there at a far faster rate than any of the others.
SUB: Kevin Kratz – 7. Replaced Jeff in the 60th minute in a game that was already well in hand at 3-0. He wasn’tt called on to do very much, then, but did get in a long-range blast that went just barely wide.
SUB: Andrew Carleton – 7. Finally! Meaningful minutes for the youngster. He replaced Tito Villalba and got 12 official minutes and about 15 of actual play. He had two giveaways deep in the Vancouver end, the second of which led ultimately to Hurtado’s goal. In a remarkable display of humility he actually apologized to Tata Martino for the second error, which Tata thought was crazy. His pass to Josef for the final goal was a thing of beauty though and more than made up for any perceived error.
SUB: Romario Williams – N/R. Came on mostly to allow Josef Martinez to exit with a standing ovation.
COACH: Tata Martino – 8. Another well-executed game, even though Vancouver made it easy.
MOST FELIPESQUE PERFORMANCE OF THE EVENING: Felipe – 0. By now you may have figured out I don’t like Felipe.
UMBC – 10. Well, why not? History, man. Bet they would have beaten Vancouver too.