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BREAKDOWN: How Atlanta United will win Goal of the Week

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It’s a nailed on certainty if there ever was one.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Philadelphia Union Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Even MLSsoccer.com has given in to the inevitability of Atlanta United goals winning when nominated for Goal of the Week. In the match recap published right after the game they observed:

MOMENT OF THE MATCH: We think ATLUTD might have locked up Goal of the Week again on a wonderful selfless buildup on their second goal.

At this point it seems only useful to discuss where this goal ranks in the rapidly increasing catalog of Atlanta United golazos. In its brief history, Atlanta has scored 112 times. That’s 9 more than other team over the same period. That’s 2.07 goals per game, better than any other team except Los Angeles FC, which of course has a shorter history to draw on. That combines, by the way, with a league-low goals against of 1.17 per game to result in a massive goal differential of 49. The next best? Thirty, by the struggling Toronto FC.

How good was this goal? Well, I think it fair to say that it was very, very good. It also highlighted a number of aspects of Atlanta United play: defensive pressure, opportunism, speed, individual ball skills and selfless team play. You’ve probably watched it several times over already, but here’s the play in its entirety:

The first thing to note about the goal is that the entire sequence from Andre Blake’s goal kick to the ball hitting the back of the net was a mere 18 seconds, and from Leandro Gonzalez Pirez intercepting Ilsinho’s pass a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 11 seconds. In order, here are the plays:

  1. Andre Blake goal kick
  2. Mark McKenzie pass
  3. Alejandro Bedoya pass
  4. Ilsinho errant pass
  5. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez interception and pass
  6. Ezequiel Barco pass
  7. Miguel Almiron dribble and pass
  8. Josef Martinez pass
  9. Miguel Almiron assist
  10. Tito Villalba goal

If you like your plays mapped out, here’s the Opta chart for it:

It has long since been a hallmark of the Atlanta style that the team is utterly without mercy when the opponent makes a mistake. In this case it was Ilsinho:

This shot is just after he played the ball. There are four things to note. First, he is facing away from the intended direction of the pass, risky if you are not completely aware of the placement of the players around you. Second, he plays the ball with the outside of his right foot, which is a relatively weak play. Third, he does this while under pressure from Chris McCann. Finally, his intended target is Borek Dockal, who is just below the center circle in this shot. But it’s not a direct pass to his feet, it’s a leading pass, with the ball going almost directly upfield as shown in the Opta chart above.

The upshot of all of this is that LGP, whom Ilsinho can’t see, has plenty of time to pounce on a slow-moving free ball before Dockal has the chance to react.

Ilsinho’s involvement in this play isn’t over yet. Because he is under pressure from McCann, he is forced inside. But that means this:

Barco, who has been trotting back after giving up the goal kick and has the entire play in his view, is wide open. LGP sees him open and simply one-touches the ball to him. Because he is in space, Barco has the time to collect the ball, turn and find Miggy where he should never be:

In space. This is not too surprising though, because the Union were up until a couple of seconds before in possession of the ball and headed upfield. They had no real reason to anticipate a counter-attack so quickly. Still, Miggy has at least five yards between him and any of the four defenders around him, and one of those (Bedoya) is heading the wrong direction anyway.

Go back to the video and look carefully at what Miggy does here. Apart from from some pretty ball juggling, he is so wide open that he has time not only to turn, but to look around before he does so. he checks over his right shoulder, notes that no one is out on the left wing, spins and hits the gas.

Now for the next defensive mistake:

Of the defenders around Miggy, Bedoya at least has turned and is engaged in a foot race he is never going to win. Rosenberry is headed in the right general direction as well, but remarkably casually, and later seems to completely give up on the play. But the key here is that the two centerbacks, Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie, have both keyed on Josef. While that is not normally a bad decision, Trusty has Josef covered and is in a position to see the entire play. In that case he should communicate to McKenzie that he can release Josef and close in on Miggy. (Note also in this shot how far out of the play Tito Villalba is at this stage - he’s in the top right.)

He doesn’t do that. Instead we see this:

Miggy’s pass to Josef is not particularly well-directed. It ends up behind him, and Josef has to execute a spin move to control it and pass it back to Miggy in what I guess is technically a wall pass (maybe a revolving door pass?). But see also that McKenzie has totally bitten on the pass and has turned to cover Josef in what he expects will be a run to the box.

And on to the final indignity. Andre Blake has belatedly recognized the danger of Miggy coming into the box but reasonably expects the shot. Instead, his sprawling attempt at a save looks comically inept as Miggy does the unselfish thing and passes the ball to Tito, whom no one has even considered to be in the play. He slots the ball between McKenzie (whose earlier bite has at least put him in a position to stop the play late) and Raymond Gaddis:

Tito, not being Will Johnson or even Chris Wondolowski, is not going to miss this one. Even with his leg held together with duct tape.

Six plays by five United players in 11 seconds and covering about 60 yards total distance. A thing of beauty. Enjoy it. Over and over again.