If the quality of a game is measured by how much time you spend on the edge of your seat, then this game has an argument for consideration as the best one Atlanta United has played to date. It didn’t help that both halves were significantly extended due to various stoppages, thereby prolonging the agonizing wait for the final whistle. So enthralling was it that I did not dare leave my armchair to visit the fridge, and as a result only managed one beer the entire game. Which of course made the wait even more exasperating.
In the end, as un-Atlanta United of a performance as this was, it was nonetheless an incredible effort. “Gritty” has been the adjective most frequently used to describe what the team did, which in some ways is odd, because grit was what was needed on the field last time they played in Minnesota, not this time. In other ways, of course, it is the perfect descriptor. The team held together, bent a bit and did not break (unless you count Michael Parkhurst’s head, Chris McCann’s nose, Jeff Larentowicz’ leg and Greg Garza’s…something). They withstood the
relentless offensive barrage utterly ineffective attack that Minnesota threw at them. They emerged victorious, bloodied but unbowed.
There are a few takeaways from this game:
- Minnesota has had three home games in March. Two of them have been against Atlanta. We should never have to do that again.
- Soccer pontificators assert that Atlanta’s best defense is its potent offense. That is now up for debate.
- Atlanta has finally won a short-handed game.
- Atlanta’s 10-man A team is better than its 10-man C+ team. It pays not to forget that.
- Don’t score an own goal against Atlanta. Especially don’t whine about it afterwards.
- Darwin Quintero arrived at least a week too late.
- Minnesota United are not the Vikings and Adrian Heath is not Bud Grant. Build a roof.
- Zlatan is boring by comparison.
Much has been made of the insane statistics in other articles we’ve already published this week, but consider this: Minnesota had 63 minutes and 38 seconds of official possession. In that time they managed a paltry total of 3 shots on goal; that’s one every 21 minutes and 13 seconds. In contrast, despite being on the back foot virtually the entire game, Atlanta still generated 2 shots on goal (3 if you count the own goal by Francisco Calvo), or one every 13 minutes and 11 seconds.
The heatmap for this game is interesting:
Minnesota ran into a brick wall in the attacking third, and Atlanta completely plugged up the goal area.
Note also that I made much two weeks ago of the crosses Atlanta threw against a short-handed Vancouver team. 28 crosses that helped to generate 3 open play goals. Minnesota almost doubled that with 50 crosses, generating…absolutely nothing.
A final analytical point: we discovered another strength of the 3-5-2. Losing a CB in that formation is nowhere near as damaging as it would have been in Atlanta’s 4-2-3-1. With two CBs still on the field, and 2 wingbacks also on the field, adjustment to the loss is fairly easy. As a result, Tata was able to postpone any substitutions until the 64th minute, going 26 minutes without a change.
And so on to the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is a very tough call this week. It’s a toss-up between Michael Parkhurst and Chris McCann (yes, I know the DDS community selected Brad Guzan). So much so that I am going to award them co-honors this week for bravery above and beyond the call of duty. Special Mentions are given to everyone else. Except Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, that is.
GK: Brad Guzan – 8. It took four games, but Brad finally recorded his first clean sheet of the season, saving all 3 shots on goal in the process. As evidence of how critical a goalkeeper becomes when a man down, Guzan was also the heaviest passer on the team with 45. When fighting to keep the box clear, distribution from the back is key.
CB: Chris McCann – 9. Easily McCann’s best day in Atlanta colors. 56 touches, 32 passes, 13 clearances, only 1 loss of possession, and, get this, no fouls. That last is hard to do when up against the wall like that. Also took a tough knock to the schnozzle. Finally, he led all players with an Audi Index of 718 (just edging out Parky’s 717).
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 9. Hands up if you thought “We’re done” when Parky headed to the touchline holding his head. If you didn’t raise your hand, you are an incurable optimist and therefore unworthy of the title of Atlanta sports fan. But he wasn’t done, and soldiered bravely on to the finish. 39 touches, 16 passes, 17 clearances, no losses of possession and only 1 foul. Add those numbers to McCann’s; that was an amazing display of determined resistance. Parky also got a Team of the Week nod for his effort.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez –2. LGP has not been himself much this season. I’ve been pretty tough on him so far, except against Vancouver. This abbreviated outing was a disaster. Incurring a yellow card less than a minute into the game is usually a good sign that you need to be careful for, oh, 89 minutes. Yeah, that didn’t happen. Remember this?
LGP on if he does anything differently to prepare for colder matches: “I put more clothes on.”— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) March 29, 2018
Apparently the extra clothing should have included a hat, because he had a complete brain freeze.
LWB: Greg Garza – 7. A rough day for Greg, who got banged about a fair bit, and earned the wrath of the entire Loons fan base for what they clearly considered an Oscar-worthy performance. Atlanta fans in contrast probably recalled his unfortunate All-Star Game experience last year as he held his shoulder. He was able to play the game out, though, and may not need to miss more time.
LM: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. Jeff continues to amaze us with how much he has left in the tank, but more than a few will have worried that his season, if not his career, had come to a premature end. He limped off with assistance in the 74th minute, but also may not miss time depending on the evaluation. Did a typical Jeff job up to that point though, and despite the defensive focus even managed to be offside in the Minnesota goal area once.
CAM: Miguel Almiron – 8. Miggy looks like he’s not having as productive an offensive season as he did last year, but that is in fact merely a matter of increased expectations. Going into this game he had scored one goal in 269 minutes; last season he scored once every 266 minutes. This game didn’t help that average, of course, but he put on a sterling defensive showing. He led the team in tackles (8) and touches (76), and also managed 3 clearances.
RM: Darlington Nagbe – 7. Darlington’s biggest strength is his attacking distribution. He obviously wasn’t called on to do that much, and his numbers tend to indicate that he didn’t do very much, However, he was always in position, and did a sterling job of filling space where it needed to be filled.
RWB: Julian Gressel – 7. Julian is well on his way to becoming MLS’ first repeat Rookie of the Year. He didn’t light up the stat sheet this week, although his 40 passes were surpassed only by Guzan’s 45. He provided a solid defensive perimeter on the right wing. Taken out late in the 86th minute.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 7. What, no hat trick? Obviously, Josef’s chances of blazing through the scoreboard diminished severely once LGP was sent off, and my choice of fantasy captain got seriously screwed. Nonetheless, he managed to keep Minnesota from pressing too hard, as he is always a threat on the counter, and got behind the defense on several occasions.
FWD: Tito Villalba – 7. Had a rather similar game to Josef, although his threat is speed on the wing rather than chaos up the middle. Left the game in a defensive shift after 64 minutes.
SUB: Sal Zizzo – 7. Zizzo’s first appearance for Atlanta was possibly a surprise move to most, but proved a good choice. Freed of any meaningful attacking responsibilities, he was able to add material defensive strength.
SUB: Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu – 8. AWO’s (and I can’t think of anything better to call him right now) first ever full official professional outing was everything we had hoped for after seeing him in preseason. In 23 minutes of play he managed 5 clearances in 8 touches. A hint of things to come, I believe.
SUB: Kevin Kratz – 7. Replaced Julian Gressel late and entered the game in a clean-up role, recording 2 clearances in 9 minutes. Not bad at all.
COACH: Tata Martino – 8. The maestro of MLS did it again. A marvelously well-managed game.
LOONS FANS – 9. They deserve some credit. Frozen to the core they were loud for their numbers and stayed to the bitter end despite the ongoing futility on the field.
JILLIAN SAKOVITS' NOTES – 10. Had the Minnesota bench completely bamboozled. Nice misdirection there.