The rivalry-that-is-not-a rivalry continued as previously on Sunday evening as the Five Stripes took a valuable road win against the Not-so-Cuddly Kitties. At this point Atlanta United has matched its 2017 road win total of 4 and the team’s 12 road points are tied for best in the league with Los Angeles FC. Atlanta’s 2.40 points per game is better though, and running at a hellacious pace. Consider the best road records over the past few years:
- 2017 Toronto FC 7-4-6 27 1.59
- 2016 New York Red Bulls 7-7-3 24 1.42
- 2015 Vancouver Whitecaps 7-7-3 24 1.42
- 2014 Seattle Sounders 7-4-6 27 1.59
As you probably know, road points are at a premium in MLS, and 12 points from 5 games are money in the bank. The $64,000 question though: is it sustainable? Probably not, but PPG of just 1.00 from the remaining road games gets us to 24 and up to the standard above. And that should be easily achievable.
At the moment, Atlanta’s road PPG is actually better than its home PPG, thanks to the loss to Sporting KC and tie with New York City FC. Still, the team is sitting atop the entire league at 25 points and PPG of 2.27. Perhaps more importantly, United have caught up to NYCFC in games played, and have a 4-point lead over them. Which also means a 2-point lead over NYCFC in aggregate over 2017 and 2018, putting us in control of the final CCL spot for 2019.
Orlando of course showed themselves to be the gracious hosts we know them to be, even showering the field with drinks late in the game to demonstrate their obvious appreciation at the stellar display of soccer provided by the guests. On both sides of the ball, too: after 30 minutes of explosive attacking play, we proceeded to regale them with 60 minutes of stalwart defensive play. Clearly, they were impressed.
Given their hospitality, it would be churlish of me to point out that Yoshi Yotun should have been shown red for throttling Tito Villalba, and Will Johnson should have seen double yellow for simulation followed immediately by dissent, so I won’t. Instead, I will gracefully segue into the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is pretty clear this time: Michael Parkhurst, who was the immovable object in Atlanta’s defense. Special Mention goes to Ezequiel Barco, who provided the irresistible force in the attack.
GK: Alec Kann – 7. Coming off an injury and pressed into his first start of the season due to Brad Guzan’s red card suspension, Kann did very well. He logged 5 saves for the game, although a couple of those were fairly routine. His one slip-up was punching the ball (as he has a habit of doing) which led to Justin Meram’s goal. Franco Escobar was safely off the field, though.
LB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 8. A strong performance again from LGP, and again no 5th yellow (which he can fairly safely pick up Sunday with New England next after a 10-day break). 4 tackles, 4 interceptions, 4 clearances, 1 block. Not a bad day’s work.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 8. Parky thrives in the 3-5-2. He barely crossed midfield this game, and was the dependable anchor at the back. 2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 block, and, get this, 11 clearances. That last is monumental.
RB: Miles Robinson –7. The draft choice that Atlanta refuses to develop earned his second start of the season. He did well with it too, keeping Meram well wide almost all evening. 2 tackles, 3 interceptions, 4 clearances, 2 blocks.
LWB: Greg Garza – 7. Drew a foul from the atrocious Cristian Higuita in the box that allowed Josef Martinez to send Joe Bendik hilariously the wrong way on the PK. And yes, it was clearly a foul, even though Greg did sell it just a tad. Pushed nicely forward, provided the assist on Barco's goal, and was also solid in defense.
LDM: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. Larry was much more mobile than usual, and even got in a long-range shot off a very nice and clearly well-rehearsed 3-man free kick set piece that went just barely wide. Also provided the usual level of defensive support.
RDM: Darlington Nagbe – 8. This is what happens when you set a midfielder free to do what he does best. Playing ostensibly in a defensive mid position, you wouldn’t necessarily know it, because Nagbe is a player in some ways similar to Miguel Almiron: fast on and off the ball, but probably rather more accurate in passing. Pulled late in the 87th minute.
RWB: Julian Gressel – 6. Julian had a rather schizophrenic evening. His defensive play was great. But take a look at his passing chart:
Yeah, that’s not so great.
LM: Ezequiel Barco – 8. A strong performance all round highlighted by a golazo off the outside of his right foot. That goal was disgracefully snubbed for Goal of the Week. Zeke is scoring at a rate of 1 goal every 215 minutes, as compared with 1 every 402 minutes at Independiente. Arthur Blank’s CFO is being treated for uncontrollable cackling. Came off after 68 minutes.
RM: Miguel Almiron – 8. He’s Miggy. Nuff said.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 7. Converted on one of his odd trademark penalty kick runs, sending Bendik to the ground the opposite way even before he kicked it. Had a couple more chances, including a header that would have been spectacular had it gone in. Exited in the 79th minute.
SUB: Tito Villalba – 6.5. Tito has had a fairly tough season so far, one way or another, and Sunday was unable to continue his lion tamer act. Still, he was fresh legs late in a grueling game. Loses half a point for the yellow card. And it’s great we have a sub who would be a starter on almost any other MLS team.
SUB: Romario Williams – 7. Also came in to provide new energy, and was atypical tata late attacking replacement. And it’s great we have two subs who would be starters on almost any other MLS team.
SUB: Kevin Kratz – 6. Came in late for clean-up duty and did precisely what he was asked to do. And it’s great we have three subs who would be starters on almost any other MLS team.
COACH: Tata Martino – 8. At this stage I think it’s safe to say that Tata has solved MLS.
BEST TITO-FACE IMITATION: Will Johnson – 0. Not a chance in hell.