If things keep going the way they have been over the course of Atlanta United’s still brief history, MLS will have to break its record book down into two categories: things Atlanta United have done, and things Atlanta United haven’t done yet.
I talked last week about how exciting a game the Minnesota United showdown was. This game was exciting in exactly the same way. For all of the three minutes or so it took Ted Unkel to reverse his red card decision on Chris McCann, that is. McCann was clearly trying to work himself into the record books, although he would have missed the fastest red card in MLS history by 2 seconds. The record is currently held by Joe Nasco, a former Colorado Rapids goalkeeper, who committed a DOGSO foul 34 seconds into a game in September 2014 against the other LA team. Nasco had been acquired by the Rapids from, get this, the Atlanta Silverbacks, and was promptly sent back to them on loan.
After that brief interlude of panic, the game reverted to the normal fun. Julian Gressel opens the scoring 17 minutes in, and things went fairly smoothly until the final third of the game when the floodgates opened. After the game LAFC ’s Carlos Vela talked about how their team played selfishly down the stretch, which could have fooled me, because to me it looked like they were being incredibly generous.
Video review (or, as even FIFA has taken to calling it, VAR) played a huge role in this game, of course. Putting my referee’s hat on, the reversal of the red card was the correct decision. McCann went in studs down from every replay I have seen, and the tackle clearly rose only to the level of recklessness, not endangerment. That was MLS’ first ever VAR red card reversal, but remained alone for just a day when a red card favoring Orlando got switched to a PK against them. As to the decision that awarded a PK, it looked to me that Walker Zimmerman did make contact with Miguel Almiron. Miggy himself obviously wasn’t expecting the penalty, since he set up for the corner, so there is definitely some lack of clarity on that one. On the other hand, Zimmerman deserved a PK given against him just for playing so abysmally poorly all game.
On the other hand, Laurent Ciman elbowing Josef Martinez in the face should have been reviewed for an obvious red card and wasn’t. Can’t have everything, I guess.
There are a few data points we learned from this shellacking:
- Atlanta now clearly has depth. More importantly, we have defensive depth. Last week we saw Sal Zizzo and Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu perform well in largely defensive roles; we can add to them Miles Robinson, whose MLS debut was very good indeed.
- I do however wonder: what if it had been Michael Parkhurst and not Leandro Gonzalez Pirez who had been unavailable for this game? Not only is Parky the captain, but he is also evidently the glue that holds the three-man back line together.
- Playing the 3-5-2 may be more important than playing the possession game. Two straight games Atlanta has ceded the possession advantage and yet has given up zero goals and only 4 shots on target.
About the only good thing that didn’t happen on Saturday was that Josef Martinez did not pick up the hat trick scoring record, which, with two PKs awarded after he left the game, he very likely would have had he still been on the field.
Defensively, this game was rather different than last week’s. Minnesota resorted to banging in an unending barrage of 50 crosses. LAFC, by contrast, racked up a mere 6 open play crosses, 2 set play crosses and 5 corners. Still, LAFC’s vaunted front four of Vela, Latif Blessing, Diego Rossi and Marcos Ureña were completely stymied by the Atlanta defense. The only shot on goal they managed all game was a relatively weak long-range attempt by Vela that was easily handled by Brad Guzan. However, it looks like this different but equally positive result was achieved in much the same way. Here’s the heatmap:
Remember from last week how Minnesota ran into a brick wall cutting off the attacking third? Well, LAFC had a similar problem. Finding no space in the middle, they were forced right, where we were able to fend off whatever balls they tried to send in, which were few. This is another aspect of the 3-5-2: with 3 centerbacks it is much easier to clog up the middle.
This all sets up a great tilt against New York City FC next Sunday: the top two teams in not only the Eastern Conference but also the Supporters’ Shield standings, with top position at stake. Perhaps more importantly, an Atlanta win would bring them into a tie with NYCFC for the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League spot.
Enough rambling. Here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is, no surprise here I imagine, Julian Gressel. Tough to argue with a goal and an assist. Special Mention this week goes to Miles Robinson. Not just because he played well, but also because of he played well under tough circumstances. Making his MLS debut against a strong team (well, so we thought) as more or less an emergency replacement was a tough challenge, but he rose to the occasion.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. Brad’s second straight clean sheet, and, as noted, only one routine save for the entire game. Once again he found himself in primarily a sweeper role. He didn’t even have to shout at his back line much, which as we all know is a goalkeeper’s primary function.
CB: Chris McCann – 6.5. Got extremely lucky, and turned in a mostly creditable performance after his nightmare start. However, McCann is now sitting on 3 yellow cards (and gets docked a half point for this one), which makes our new-found depth rather important.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 8. OK, hot take here: of all the brilliant signings Atlanta United have made, Parky may rank as the most brilliant. Obviously, as a defender he is less flashy and unlikely to light up the stat sheet, but his solidity at the center of the back line and his leadership are key skills the team can ill afford to lose. 64 touches and 49 passes, as well as 4 clearances, all at the top of the 18. He filled zone 5, or LAFC’s zone 14 if you prefer (go ahead, Google it), making it all but impassable.
CB: Miles Robinson –9. I’ve gushed quite a bit about Miles’ performance already. This was a strong debut by any standard. It doesn’t really show in any of the stats (his Audi Index score is a modest 106, for example), but his work rate, key recovery play on Rossi and shot-stopping tackle on Blessing should earn him far more minutes this season. He also has far more speed than I think most were expecting. Also, he’s big.
LWB: Mikey Ambrose – 7. Earning his third Atlanta start in place of Greg Garza, Mikey did an acceptable if unspectacular job, committing no serious errors nor making any truly key plays. He was considerably less active than his counterpart Gressel on the right wing, notching 50 touches and 36 passes, although he in fact played in a much more advanced position overall.
LM: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. A relatively quiet game for Jeff, although he was credited with the assist from deep in the Atlanta end on Romario Williams’ late goal. Pushed further upfield than is typical for him, though. There are few miles left in those legs yet.
CAM: Miguel Almiron – 8.5. Led all players with an Audi Index of 913. Two goals (although OK goals get less credit under the Audi system) and an assist will get you that. His heatmap has him hanging around the top right corner of Miller’s penalty area, favoring his left side and achieving seriously deep penetration through the LAFC defense. Got a rare yellow for time wasting. Came off late to allow Andrew Carleton a quick cameo.
RM: Darlington Nagbe – 8. All over the field as usual, and spraying passes left, right and center. He also filled some important defensive functions too, co-leading the team with 4 tackles, as well as an interception and 3 clearances. This, in no mean part, is why Julian Gressel, was freed up…
RWB: Julian Gressel – 9. A great day for Julian. In addition to his wide open goal (thanks to the LAFC defense apparently thinking Josef was our only threat) and assist, Julian also led the team in touches with 67 and passes (55). On top of that, he had 3 tackles, an interception and a clearance. At this point, with Barco’s return to health looming, Julian is making himself a champagne problem for Tata. Who sits?
FWD: Tito Villalba – 6. Well, just maybe Tito sits. This was not Villalba’s best game to say the least, and ends up subbed out almost every game. This week he was first off after 59 minutes, during which he really hadn’t done too much. Just one shot way wide, 31 touches and only 17 passes. That’s poor production.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. Another excellent headed goal and the usual shinpad-removal and associated melodrama when he came out after 84 minutes. Sooner or later a ref is going to card him for that, and I frankly don’t understand why it hasn’t already happened. With the goal Josef reclaimed a half-share of the league lead with five (with Sporting KC’s Felipe Gutierrez), and is scoring at a rate of one every 87.6 minutes. As mentioned above, Josef is such a threat to score that he is a veritable defender magnet, and yet still manages to break free at least once a game.
SUB: Kevin Kratz – 7. Replaced Tito in the 58th minute and 9 minutes later provided the secondary assist on Josef’s goal. That put the game effectively out of reach of LAFC’s puchless attack, and was able to more or less cruise the rest of the way.
SUB: Romario Williams – 8. Came on for Josef Martinez after 84 minutes and wasted no time in getting his first MLS goal. Did the predictable shirt removal, earning himself a yellow card for which he does not get a demerit.
SUB: Andrew Carleton – N/R. Replaced Miggy late in stoppage time and didn’t do much, although he looked a tad hesitant.
COACH: Tata Martino – 8. Tata>Bradley. Bring on Vieira.
THE WELCOMING COMMITTEE – 10. I think you know who I’m talking about. Well played.