Ooh boy. That was a game for the ages.
The Dark Ages, that is. It was ugly from start to finish, and in every way conceivable. Seattle showed up with a plan. Not a game plan, as what they did can only in the broadest understanding of the term be called a “game”. They displayed little interest in actually playing soccer; in Kim Kee-Hee’s case he was evidently trying out for the UFC. Nicolas Lodeiro apparently was upset that he failed his audition for his local drama club. And Chad Marshall subscribes to the Marco Materazzi school of defending.
But Atlanta, except for about 10 minutes at the start of the second half, seemed perfectly content to play along with this anti-football concept. I’m not even sure that Seattle’s approach can be truly described as bunkering either; it was merely disruptive. But overall, it worked. They got into Atlanta’s heads. Especially Josef Martinez’.
It worked for two reasons. One is that referee Baldomero Toledo failed to exercise any control of the game from very early on and basically gave the Sounders carte blanche to get away with it. That and a lot of very inconsistent decisions, including missing possibly fourpenalty kicks. The other is that the mental fragility displayed by Atlanta in response to their antics resulted in a failure to convert on numerous chances. This has been an ongoing problem for United, but was probably worse in this game: 19 shots, but only 6 on target, and only one converted. Seattle were as goal-averse as usual: they racked up a stunning 1.05 xG for the game including the penalty kick.
(The 4 missed PKS, by the way: a handball by Leandro Gonzalez Pirez that looked in almost every way imaginable identical to the Franco Escobar handball (which was soft), Marshall’s push onJosef’s back, Kim’s throttling of Chris McCann, and Gustav Svensson’s barge to Miguel Almiron’s back.)
The heatmap for this non-soccer event is absurd:
What this basically says is that Julian Gressel, Tito Villalba and Stefan Frei were the hardest working men for the day.
That 10 minutes of effective play in the second half are, however, of critical importance. The team came out of the break with instructions to speed the game up. Basically, to play their own game instead of Seattle’s. And it worked. Atlanta had three shots in that period and all three were on target, including, obviously, the goal. Bunkering, which seems to have become the solution of choice for teams coming into the Benz, relies to some extent on slowing the game down. It’s much easier to absorb pressure if you have the time to get your defenders into position. To find the right parking space for the bus, as it were. The approach assumes you don’t get caught out of shape. But Atlanta can kill with speed, as was demonstrated so well against the Philadelphia Union. This could well be the answer to the vexing problem of dropped points at home.
Is it clear that I did not enjoy this game? Good. With that in mind, the absolutely authoritative Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
I really struggled with the Man of the Match honors this week. I was sorely tempted to give them to Josef, but doing so when he is likely to earn a suspension (nervously awaiting the DisCo announcement) seems off. Rather, I will award them to Michael Parkhurst, who provided more or less all the defense needed by Atlanta but also pushed way farther forward than he usually does. Josef does get a Special Mention for his, er, legal use of his head.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. Brad came very close to making it a four straight games with 3 saves, very nearly saving Lodeiro’s rather poorly taken penalty kick. In fact, he really should have stopped it. One of his 2 saves was impressive, though. Other than that, Seattle gave him very little to do.
LB: Chris McCann – 6. Another aggressive attacking game for Chris, despite Seattle deciding not to give him breathing room. Literally.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 6.5. Despite what Sounders fans have been saying, LGP did not deserve two yellows in this game. The one he got was for what I considered minimal contact embellished significantly by Lodeiro. However, he did deserve one for a blatant dive a few minutes earlier, which may earn him a fine from DisCo.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 8. Led all players on Sunday with an Audi Index of 711. Given that Miggy scores over 1,000 on a not infrequent basis, that gives you an idea of how poor this game was. Also led all players with 11 touches (and it wasn’t close; next best Atlanta player was Barco with 90 and Seattle’s best was Lodeiro with 70). 3 tackles, 3 interceptions, a massive 7 clearances and 1 block. He also made one memorable long pass clearly intended to emulate Paul Pogba’s epic throughball earlier that day, but without the same positive result.
RB: Franco Escobar –5.5. Was given a yellow for the handball leading to the PK. Overall, this was not a stellar performance. He did not provide anywhere near the service that McCann did on the left, and that was not exactly a high bar. Taken out in the 80th minute in a YOLO move by Tata.
LDM: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. I’ve seen comments from Sounders fans that Jeff played dirty. He was called for precisely zero fouls and I have no idea why anyone would think that. Plus, the heat map clearly shows Seattle was trying to take the long way round to avoid running into him. In other words, he did his job defensively. As ever.
RDM: Julian Gressel – 7. Not Julian’s best game by any stretch of the imagination. He did provide a masterful assist for Josef’s goal, but otherwise was not very effective.
LM: Ezequiel Barco – 7. I’m probably going to take some heat here: I thought Barco played better this game than he has in recent weeks. He was Atlanta’s third-highest Audi Index scorer after Parky and Josef (if that really means very much). Generally, he struck me as more confident on the ball despite Seattle maintaining his fouls incurred average (to be fair, Atlanta actually exceeded Lodeiro’s average).
CAM: Miguel Almiron – 6. Miggy knows what happened to Samson when he got his hair cut. He didn’t learn the lesson. This was a very sub-par game from the midfield maestro. Check his passing map:
Far too may failed passes, and as the time bar at the bottom shows, it didn’t really improve as the game progressed.
RM: Tito Villalba – 6. Somehow, Tito got stuck out wide and never managed to move inside as he usually does. His passing was worse than Miggy’s so I’ll spare you the graphic.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 7. A great goal, and generally a strong effort from Josef, as usual. However, he lost his cool and will likely have to sit out the D.C. United game. Nevertheless, he retains his 7-goal lead in the Golden Boot race and still is on track to beat the season record.
SUB: Romario Williams – 7. The only Atlanta substitution of the game, which is an indication not only of Tata’s confidence in his starters but also of the fact that Seattle had done little to wear United out. Tata flipped a fullback for a second striker, but the team did not seem to adjust well to a two-striker formation, and Romario was not given any real chances to contribute.
COACH: Tata Martino – 6. Good half-time adjustments that petered out too quickly. Gotta get the team moving faster from the opening whistle.
GOLD STANDARD: 7. Very nicely done. However, I have to confess to some confusion: didn’t we abandon that in 1933?