Tata Martino should stop complaining about the officiating
Once again, Atlanta United was heavily impacted by the officiating in Wednesday’s match in Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. In this episode, it was Silviu Petrescu who decided not to award Atlanta United a penalty in the second half on a possible foul against Mikey Ambrose, yet awarded a penalty in the 87’ against Kevin Kratz on negligible contact in the box. Despite any complaints about the inconsistency between these two calls/noncalls, when looked at independently, both are understandable. And Atlanta fans, players, and staff — who have been as critical of VAR in recent days as anyone in the world — should be happy that the game was not bogged down by replay.
And yet, Tata Martino was once again snippy with Fox Sports South’s Jillian Sakovitz after the match, cleverly implying that the officiating was the reason they didn’t get the three points (without saying it explicitly as to likely avoid a fine). This kind of thing really, really needs to stop. Listen, I understand that Martino may not have ever had the types of immediate media obligations after matches as he’s had in MLS, but he’s been in the job long enough now to know what to expect. And these outbursts are no good, even if a bit amusing. The comments or implications that the referees are to blame only give fans and players license to do the same. I’m not so concerned about the fan aspect as I am about what these messages convey to the team. The second half against New York Red Bulls was a total capitulation after Tata got triggered, seemingly because there weren’t enough calm heads out there. It’s simply petulant behavior and hopefully we can get back to focusing on the team, faults and all.
Josef Martinez is more than a finisher
Josef Martinez had one of his most complete games in an Atlanta United uniform Wednesday night. He scored a first half goal, getting on the end of Julian Gressel’s “cross” (a meekly rolled ball into the box that New England somehow failed to deal with), but that was perhaps the least impressive part of his game. In the second half especially, Josef dropped deeper to get himself on the ball and part of the buildup. He sprang two great attacks, both of which could very well have ended in goals.
absolutely criminal that nothing comes from this ball by Josef Martinez to spring an attack pic.twitter.com/rDkebw1CBQ— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) May 31, 2018
Tata Martino pulled the Venezuelan star off before the end of the match (when Atlanta held a 1-0 lead) to keep him fit and primed for the team’s weekend home match against the Philadelphia Union. Long may this form continue.
Finishing and results are fickle
Atlanta United should have won Wednesday’s game with the chances they had. There’s no denying it. But the fact that the team didn’t take advantage of 3-4 excellent chances to add to its lead in the second half is not a cause for concern — that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, as Jeff Larentowicz sagely pointed out after the match. You might compare Atlanta’s finishing troubles to a good hitter in baseball who goes into a slump. You know the player didn’t forget how to hit the ball. In fact, maybe that player was hitting the ball hard, but it was just going right at fielders. But baseball is a game of large numbers, and chances are that said player will also have some hot streaks during the season where every ball seems to find the gaps in the infield. It’s the same deal here. Atlanta United players are no worse at finishing chances than they were last season when they team over-performed their expected goals tally by 17!
Sometimes you connect flush with a shot that goes straight at the keeper. Sometimes the keeper makes a great save. Sometimes you’re just inches away off the wrong side of the post. These things happen throughout the course of a game or a season. This is why it’s so important to have a playing style — a philosophy — that leads to having more scoring chances than the opponent on a regular basis. Over time, these things tend to even out.
Atlanta was too passive to open the game
On the one hand, I completely understand why, on the road, Tata Martino’s gameplan may have been to come in with a very conservative, safe mindset and gradually open the game up as needed — especially with the team inserting three new players among the back five in defense. The problem is that the team was playing so passively, it wasn’t taking advantage of New England’s weakness — space behind the back line. Brad Friedel has implemented a very tight, man marking pressing system in New England, and Atlanta played into the home side’s hands in the first half by constantly playing the ball backward, seemingly afraid to take risks.
Atlanta just looks very hesitant to play the ball forward in midfield. Probably bc they are outnumbered in those areas, so the tendency is to move the ball where it feels safe. pic.twitter.com/8AY3MixAPX— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) May 31, 2018
If the plan was to slowly grow into the game, they surely weren’t doing it quickly enough. Aaron Hyde, the teams goalkeeping coach and media rep for halftime hits, looked fired up when they spoke. Hyde, bless him, seemed upset at the lack of character and bravery the team was displaying on the ball. And indeed, we saw a different Atlanta United team in the second half. If there’s anything to blame for the result Wednesday, it’s not Petrescu, it was Atlanta’s meek first half (in which they were lucky to score).
There’s no shame in a point in New England
In MLS, any road point is a point gained. It’s probably more difficult to win on the road in MLS than in any European league you regularly watch. It may even be the toughest league in the world to gain points on the road (sans the smaller leagues riddled with match fixing). New England in particular is a difficult place to win, especially this season with the way the team is playing under its new manager Brad Friedel. New England has lost as many home games as Atlanta this season, and currently sits in playoff position ahead of high-spending teams like the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC.
I’ll go a step further, when I hear people say things like “we couldn’t even beat NEW ENGLAND!” like it’s some sort of embarrassment, it just makes us look like uninformed jerks.
In fact, the point that the team earned Wednesday put the Five Stripes atop the MLS standings, leading the supporters shield race. Take a breath. Have a drink. Hug your kids and tell them you love them.