In soccer, the order of events matters. This is only slightly true in other sports, but in soccer it’s the whole thing really. There are so few goals (if you’re not playing against New England or Minnesota), that each and every one of them changes the landscape of the remainder of the match. Each goal materially changes not only the likely outcome of the match, but it changes the objectives of each team. The two teams are almost not even playing the same sport after goals have happened. Stay with me.
In the first 30 minutes against the Houston Dynamo, Atlanta United gave up three pretty good chances, and because goals change games completely, that’s all the Dynamo really needed to put the game away for good before half time. Except, they did NOT put them away. They didn’t score the goals. See for yourself:
You get it now, right? See what I did? Anyhow, we all know what happened next. Miguel Almiron’s taut laces made sweet sweet ... he hit the ball hard and it went in, like so much in. He hit it very, very hard in my opinion. Next thing you know, there’s another goal. And then, Atlanta’s taking the match 4-1 and hats are being thrown on the ice to honor the little guy.
I’m not talking about Tiotal FanFic, a new weekly series I’ll be debuting here on DSS in April. I’m talking about one of the all time great Bobby Dodd memories, May 20, 2017 when Atlanta beat up on a visiting Houston after a lengthy rain delay and a flooded tunnel under the I-75/I-85 connector with the supporter groups ultimately partying like MTV’s Spring Break 1998. The entire fan base did their best Hacksaw Jim Duggan impression when the PA system went out during the national anthem. And, Andrew Carleton appeared late as a substitute to a deafening roar.
The reason I bring this up is that the chances Atlanta gave up to Houston in the opening half hour in last year’s meeting weren’t so dissimilar from the chances the Dynamo capitalized on over the weekend. Sometimes these chances go in and the game is basically over quickly, and sometimes they don’t. If you squint hard enough in the above clips, you can kind of see Jeff Larentowicz and Carlos Carmona in the CM positions just barely tracking back to get almost in the way of some of these chances (which Alec Kann saved admirably), and so maybe that’s a difference between that and the Chris McCann / Darlington Nagbe midfield who could do nothing to stop the counter attacks in this year’s edition, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch honestly. It’s hard to argue that there weren’t significant individual errors made in defense. And look, giving away chances is bad. But it also isn’t something new.
And don’t get me wrong I thought there were definitely some major positioning issues with McCann, both when the team was in possession and even when it wasn’t. And I thought Nagbe for all the strength of his passing and dribbling resume did not shine in these areas on the day, nor did he excel at doing the old Carmona things.
Here’s the thing. I rewatched the match finally, or I tried to. I actually fell asleep at half time because I get tired early now that I’m a dad. And I’ll tell you something. When I woke up towards the end of the match (this is called an 11pm power nap), I actually felt ... better somehow. I actually thought - you may want to sit down - that the team will be fine. It’s easy to forget that for many stretches of the match that Atlanta peppered Houston’s final third. I’m thinking of the opening few minutes for starters (the precious little even game state we saw). And later in the match when Atlanta were passing the ball around quickly they really were zipping it around and creating space. Almiron had the two “big chances” where he’s coded by Opta as being more likely than not to score (shucks), and in another big moment, Almiron and Josef almost connected for a tap in on the break. On top of these, there were so many moments that just barely didn’t come off — some touches in and around the box that could’ve been shots but instead were turnovers, and maybe some shots from range that should’ve been through balls into the box to find runners. Moving the ball around in the dangerous areas is what is promising.
Tata is correct to suggest it’s difficult to analyze the match in depth because of how quickly the game became the game that it became — 4-0 in a matter of minutes — instead of the game it could’ve just as easily become, the very one where I may have lost some permanent hearing on a rainy night in midtown last year.
Post Credits Scene:
The opening match last season was a kick in the pelotas. Leaving the match, it felt like such a typical Atlanta meltdown to have been up a goal late in the all-important inaugural game, and to give it away like that. I’m sure some thought that it would do irreparable damage to the buzz and general support of the new team in town. That would turn out to be 100% false. But I remember that it was only after I rewatched that opening game that I actually felt buoyed by what the team had put together from a style of play and overall performance perspective - with room to improve of course. After rewatching this opening 2018 match, I don’t feel quite the same level of optimism, but unclouded by the tension and disappointment of the initial moment, it’s easier to see that the way the team plays is very impressive and dangerous and it will cause trouble for most teams - if they can just sort out the midfield a bit. Martinez very looked lively and dangerous. I should also say that I will be back here in three or four weeks if the underlying performance does not improve, and I will be less than enthused. Specifically, I’m not convinced that the team can defend corners well. A trend from last season has continued into the early parts of this year.