This Saturday the Five Stripes ventured north to take on Bastian Schweinsteiger and ten guys who will never play in a World Cup, also known by their nickname the Men in Dumpsters. After 90 minutes of fairly physical play, our boys emerged victorious to remain clearly the best team in MLS right now. Even super-sub Alan Gordon was unable to prevent the win, and that probably to his dismay, as Atlanta is one of the few teams left in MLS against whom he can actually celebrate scoring a goal.
Technically, this was a rather different game than last week’s. Whereas against Montreal significant changes were made in the second half, this time around Tata Martino made only subtle adjustments and possibly greater effect. Watch out for analysis coming soon.
Things to make you go hmm:
- Atlanta is now 3-1-0 on the road. This record is bested only by Los Angeles FC, who managed a record of 4-2-0 before they realized that having your own stadium is a thing. However, on a PPG basis, Atlanta’s 2.25 is better than LAFC’s 2-0.
- Ezequiel Barco opened his scoring account for Atlanta, and has 1 goal in 4 appearances. At Independiente his scoring rate was 1 every 7.6 appearances (5 for 38). The investment is already paying off.
- Atlanta leads the league in points, points per game, wins, fewest losses (tied with FC Dallas), goals scored and goal difference.
- Despite Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron combining for 13 of Atlanta’s 23 goals, the wealth has been spread with 9 Atlanta players scoring. That’s tied for third best in the league. Add in the two own goals in our favor, and we would be tied for first at 11.
- Attendance for this game was 15,024. Attendance in Cincinnati for ATL UTD 2’s game was 22,532.
And now the all-important Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match was never in doubt: Miguel Almiron predictably takes the honors. His name has now been preemptively inscribed on every DSS MOTM trophy for the rest of the season (black Sharpie on a red Dixie cup). Special Mention goes to Darlington Nagbe, who continues his reign as the most unselfish soccer player of all time.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. There was nothing Brad could do about the Kevin Ellis (who?) goal, but was otherwise his usual dependable self with two saves on the night. However, he is venturing a tad far out of the box, and appears to be joining the Manuel Neuer sweeper-keeper school of goalkeeping.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 8. LGP had a very good game in my opinion. First, I’m not going to dock him for the yellow card for the foul on Aleksandar Katai. It was clearly a foul, but it resulted from him slipping and there was nothing in it meriting a sanction. Other than that he was second on the team in touches and passes, had 5 interceptions and 5 clearances. However, he did not get anywhere near as far forward in this game as is usual.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 8. Parky ventured more or less as far forward as LGP in this game, a rarity for him, especially in the 3-5-2 formation. However, it paid off in spades as he executed a beautiful tackle on Schweinsteiger that began the sequence that ended in Josef’s game-winning goal.
CB: Franco Escobar –7. Poor Franco. He bails Guzan out with a calmly brilliant goalmouth stop and what does he get for his trouble? Iron Fist beating Ironman. All in all, a very solid performance. Let’s hope he’s OK this time.
LWB: Greg Garza – 6. This was not Garza’s best game in a Five Stripes uniform. The poorly headed clearance that dropped to Ellis for the Chicago goal was perhaps a little unfortunate, but overall Greg was far less active than normal. Expect him to get rested on Wednesday.
LM: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. Larry was, for the second straight wekk, part of the tactical turnaround that produced the W. This time though, rather getting the hitch at half time, he was instructed to move up into a more attacking position. Within 11 minutes of that shift, Atlanta had the game in hand.
RM: Darlington Nagbe – 8. His marvelous and unselfish play on and off the ball on Josef’s goal should be enough to get him a high score, but of course that was far from all he did. His peformance included good defensive play, including 5 tackles and 3 interceptions. Darlington is an archetypal “box-to-box” midfielder. His heatmap for the game shows this rather neatly:
RWB: Julian Gressel – 7. Less involved in the attacking phase of the game than usual, but relatively strong in defense. 8 tackles, 2 interceptions and 2 clearances. On offense he had 2 shots, but attempted only two crosses, and neither ended up in the box.
CAM: Miguel Almiron – 9. At this point I need to consult a thesaurus to find enough superlatives to describe Miggy’s play. He is so consistently good words fail me. He was single-handedly responsible for creating Barco’s goal, and, as Lucy Rushton tweeted out late Saturday, he was literally all over the field:
Instead of a stat tonight, I give you this...... Miguel Almiron's heat map from tonights game. Sometimes an image says it all.....#ATLUTD #hardwork #everywhere #neverstop pic.twitter.com/P5Dq2U48UV— Lucy Rushton (@lucyrushton12) May 6, 2018
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. This season Josef has adjusted his play to get deeper into the midfield and create touches for himself and attacking threats for the team, adding a new aspect to his game that we didn’t really see last year. He remains the consummate goal-poacher, of course. He had 4 shots on the evening, 3 on target, and had several other chances he couldn’t quite complete. Sooner or later he is going to bury a bicycle kick in the back of the net. Do not expect him to ever be happy to leave the field though.
FWD: Ezequiel Barco – 7.5. His first goal was by no means the first return on the $15 million investment, although it does make it all the clearer why we bought him. The goal was classic Atlanta United: thump it at the roof of the net and dare the goalkeeper to try and stop it. He is well on his way to his first Goal of the Week. Rumor has it Barco is in negotiations to establish a line of sunglasses. However, he loses a half point for the yellow card ankle stomp on Dax McCarty, which some are arguing should have been a red (hint: it wasn’t).
SUB: Kevin Kratz – 7. Replaced Josef in the 72nd minute, presumably to shore up the defensive midfield which was already beginning to bend just a bit too much. No free kick heroics this week, just solid midfield play.
SUB: Tito Villalba – 6.5. Came on for Barco in the 81st minute in a relatively short cameo appearance. Possibly saving his legs for Wednesday’s game? In any event, he didn’t do too much, although his threat as a speedster was a subtle addition to the defensive arsenal. Loses half a point for the time-wasting yellow card.
SUB: Miles Robinson – N/R. Came on for Escobar in stoppage time. Miles made a late clearance right in front of goal, but was otherwise unchallenged.
COACH: Tata Martino – 8. Unpredictability is becoming Tata’s calling card, and planning for him is getting harder by the week. However, this Wednesday is going to be an interesting match-up with the canny Peter Vermes coming to town.
CHICAGO FIRE SUPPORTERS’ GROUPS – 0. It’s bad enough when a visiting player’s friends and family outnumber you (150! Brad Guzan blew his paycheck big time this week), but for heaven’s sake you really need to up your tifo game.