On the one hand, Atlanta United got totally smoked by the New York Red Bulls on Sunday night. It wasn’t a good result and was another dropped three points at home against one of the best teams in MLS. It is the kind of loss that teams who want to win the Supporter’s Shield don’t have once much less twice. Tata Martino seemed to get the tactics wrong in this one, picking Julian Gressel’s crosses and Miles Robinson’s acceptable defending in a 3-5-2 over Tito Villalba’s speed and shooting with Sal Zizzo’s acceptable right back play in a 4-3-3. It went wrong and it cost the team.
Or did it?
In an alternate universe the Josef Martinez goal isn’t called back and Atlanta is up 2-0 to the Red Bulls. Their backup keeper is shaken and they are forced to break down Atlanta while the Five Stripes can steam up field on counters all night while New York is looking to get back into the game. Then Tito’s shot that went just wide also goes in to give Atlanta a third goal at the death.
But the butterfly’s wings didn’t flap that way and Atlanta United ended up losing momentum and - well you saw the idiot who jumped onto the field from the stands...
Anyway, let’s get more upset by looking at the box score:
It’s easy to sit back and second guess - but it Tata must have been really confident in going with three center backs with wing backs in a formation over a 4 back defense to help build possession against a team that was going to press Atlanta relentlessly - and New York was relentless. On the other hand, maybe this was a ploy by Tata to get Jesse Marsch “two time winner against former Argentina National Team and Barcelona manager Tata Martino” on his resume to get him out of the league and promoted to one of Red Bull’s European properties before the teams next meeting.
No, Mark Geiger didn’t win the game for New York by himself, but all that VAR is doing is taking a subjective call away from one referee and giving it to another - with multiple angles and multiple other ways that they can convince themselves they saw something they may or may not have and apply or mis-apply the rules to it however they subjectively see fit. It really isn’t resolving the problem that it was created to and is causing more of them.
Not mad enough yet? Let’s look at the team stats:
Yeah, I’m still stuck on the three in the back move. Atlanta looked dangerous and got two goals playing a 3-5-2, but they also went back to a lineup that has problems with letting players get beat down the wings and isn’t built to build possession if that’s what the game plan was. It’s easy to say this was the wrong play in a loss - but before the red card to Brad Guzan in the Sporting Kansas City match, the 4-3-3 enabled Atlanta to play some of it’s best soccer against a pressing team. Either neither of these lineups work against pressing teams, or Tata needs to decide who this team is in games where they will get pressed.