Let’s start off with some trivia: in just 40 regular season games, Atlanta United have played in three different stadiums against three teams: Orlando City, DC United and now New York City FC…scratch that, one actual soccer team, the Mouseketeers and a group of guys trying their damnedest to get Ben Olsen fired.
The three games against NYCFC display a remarkable degree of evenhandedness: a 3-1 NYC win on a postage stamp (Yankee Stadium), a 3-1 Atlanta win on a mid-sized field (Bobby Dodd) and a 2-2 draw on a full-sized field (the Benz). 12 goals evenly shared, and a very tidy record of 1-1-1.
There’s another pattern to this game too: last year Atlanta drew 2-2 twice against Toronto FC. Three games against the league leaders, all with the same result. Atlanta also drew against reigning MLS champion Seattle 0-0 last season. Conclusion: Atlanta brings its A game against the top competition. But so do they, it seems.
This season has already seen a few great games: the LA derby being an obvious choice, the Atlanta win over Minnesota another, and the Orlando comeback over Portland a third…oh, great, why do I keep forgetting this is supposed to be about soccer? Anyway, add this one to the list. The showcase game of the week, featuring two of the top three teams in the league, entirely lived up to its billing. Four goals, including a PK and debut goals by two players, one of those a golazo deservedly up for Goal of the Week, a goal called off (sort of by VAR), David Villa and Ezequiel Barco off the bench, electric open field play all around, and a stalemate between two of the best managers in the league. All in all, this was a great advertisement for MLS.
Much has been said about Atlanta United being MLS 3.0; I have countered that by saying that Atlanta are way beyond that and are in fact MLS X. Well, I’m going to correct myself a bit on that: Atlanta, NYCFC and Toronto (who as I write are preparing for what could be the most important game in MLS history Tuesday night) as a group are MLS X. These three teams are (despite Toronto’s current lowly league standings) opening up a pretty wide gap between themselves and the rest of the league. If those other 20 teams don’t wise up soon, MLS will start to look like a permanently two-tier league. Or Europe. Same difference.
Tactically, this was an interesting game. This was the third straight game in which Atlanta ceded the possession advantage, although the pattern was rather different than in the previous two:
The heavy black line indicates half time. Atlanta’s two goals were scored in the 29th and 56th minutes, just as the team was either entering or exiting a period of possession advantage. No surprise there, obviously. But look at how the team dominated late in each half, especially the second. Over the final 10 minutes of the game, United had 78.6% of the possession. Although it only resulted in 3 shots, this is a very good development. Goals are predominantly scored in the closing minutes of each half (see here and here). If Atlanta can control possession late, especially in close games, the chances of positive results from those games goes up significantly.
Finally, a ratings post would not be complete without a heatmap. This one is very interesting:
You are not going to find a heatmap much more of a mirror image than this one. Atlanta played marginally more advanced than NYCFC, but that’s about the only difference. This game played out to a stalemate, and the graphic clearly illustrates that.
With that, on to the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is Miguel Almiron. If a game is going to be played out in midfield, as this one was, expect Miggy to excel. Which he did, brilliantly. Special Mention goes to Darlington Nagbe, who also shines in midfield play, and would have had a Goal of the Week nomination of his goal had stood.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. Brad came pretty close to Villa’s penalty kick, and looked pretty upset that he didn’t stop it, and no one was going to stop Alexander Ring’s laser to the top corner. Hard to criticize him over either of those.
CB: Chris McCann – 7.5. A goal? Wow. And a pretty nice one at that. However, he loses a half point for the yellow card for time wasting, which you don’t do with 20 minutes left to play. McCann wasn’t called on to do much of the defensive work, and actually played in a moderately advanced position much of the game. However, that was his fourth yellow and he is now in danger of suspension.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 6. Having sung his praises last week, Parky goes and gives up a rather silly and very obvious penalty (his only foul of the game). That aside, he remains a strong presence in the center of the defense, but like McCann was not really tested much.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez –7. LGP has had an up and down season so far, to say the least. This was clearly an up game. He led the team in interceptions (3), and in clearances (2). Also consider that he was playing on the right, not the left as he has historically done.
CDM: Jeff Larentowicz – 6.5. Proved to be his typical solid defensive self, and not much came up through the middle past him. Picked up a late yellow card, for which he is docked half a point.
LWB: Greg Garza – 7. Back from injury and opened the scoring with a fairly easy tap-in. Otherwise he was rather less active than Gressel on the opposite wing but remained a threat all game.
LM: Kevin Kratz – 7. A slight surprise to start, but Kratz was pretty reliable for the 70 minutes he played. Otherwise unspectacular, although his 41 touches were all over the field.
RM: Darlington Nagbe – 8. Nagbe has been very good so far for Atlanta, the change of scenery clearly agreeing with him. He spent most of the game drifting right in support of Julian Gressel, although his goal came from the left. The goal was, in my opinion, correctly called off and I think Darlington knew it.
RWB: Julian Gressel – 8. Julian continues to make an incredibly strong case to remain a starter. This week he led the team in touches (80) and passes (62), and neither was even close. No goal or assist this week, but he is a very consistent threat to produce.
FWD: Miguel Almiron – 9. Assisted on McCann’s goal and generally bossed the field all evening. Miggy constantly had two or three defenders trailing him – literally trailing him, as if they were children following the Pied Piper. About the only way NYCFC stopped him was by fouling. He led all players in the game with 5 shots.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 5. This may have been Josef’s worst game for Atlanta. Whether the hand was bothering him or something else was out of sorts, he was not his usual self. The offside obstruction of Sean Johnson was a pretty boneheaded move and he didn’t do much better the rest of the game. Amazingly, of Atlanta’s 15 shots, he contributed none of them.
SUB: Ezequiel Barco – 7. Replaced Kratz in the 70th minute to great cheering and proceeded to produce a pretty good performance. Some disagree with this view, I know, but the combination of rust and the ill-advised formation change to 3-4-3 as he came in have to be considered. After the shift back to 3-5-2 he looked fine.
COACH: Tata Martino – 7. Only one sub all game and the aforementioned formation shift are the only question marks over a well-coached game. And there is evident respect between Tata and Vieira, as there certainly should be.
CR: Allen Chapman – 8. I don’t often comment on the refereeing in these posts, but Chapman proved why he is the MLS referee of the year. He didn’t get much wrong, and unfortunately his two key decisions against Atlanta (the penalty and the called-off goal) were absolutely spot on.