If soccer games were precisely 90 minutes long, Atlanta United walks away from this one with a well-deserved 2-0 win. Excruciatingly, though, precisely 8 seconds into stoppage time in each half, Toronto FC scored a goal to head home with an outrageously purloined point, and leaving Atlantans to once again scratch their heads over what should have been.
The shot chart tells the story of this one:
Toronto had precisely two shots from inside the 18, and both went in. Sebastian Giovonco’s goal was the only Toronto shot of the entire first half. Atlanta had 2 more shots from outside the box than Toronto had in total. Ditto for Atlanta’s shots on target and blocked shots, and Josef Martinez alone also had 2 more shots than Toronto. To put it simply, United pounded the Toronto goal from start to finish.
The question though for this end result is: who is more to blame? Is it the attack for failing to finish on several huge opportunities? Or is it the defense for two absolutely boneheaded plays?
Most observers will likely point to the two soul-crushing Toronto goals and heap the blame on the defense. Yes, big mistakes were made. But consider. First, Atlanta had been forced by circumstances to go with a jury-rigged 3-man back line including Jeff Larentowicz as right back. Second, United were playing on the front foot the entire game. In terms of defending in the box, there was a total of 12 stops: 2 tackles and 10 clearances, and no interceptions or blocks. Of those 12 stops, 6 were in the last ten minutes of the game, all but 1 in the last five minutes. That’s not conducive to staying fully alert.
The heatmap supports that argument:
Zippo penetration. Much like Montreal last week.
But let’s not shy away from the fact that the defense should never have been in the position of having to protect a 1-goal lead. Atlanta could easily have gone into the locker room at half time with a 3 or 4-goal lead. Josef alone had one if not two good scoring chances in the first half. And there were chances galore in the second half.
Finishing has been an issue all season. In particular, Miguel Almiron (who missed a near-sitter in the 23rd minute) has been failing to score. Yes, his 8 goals this season are only one less than his total for 2017, but consider that 6 of those goals were scored in the first 8 games of the season. Since then he logged a brace on June 30th, and nothing since (that brace was against Orlando City, anyway, so it doesn’t count). That’s not too much of a problem if Josef continues scoring in the way that he has been (as Tata vociferously argued after the game), but he still needs support.
To illustrate both these points:
Per MLS’ own xG formula, Atlanta should have won this game 4-1, and Miggy should have scored at least 6 more goals this season.
Atlanta is heading into the final stretch and the playoffs with two problems. The finishing, and a sudden loss of depth on the back line. In just the last week or so we have lost both Sal Zizzo and Mikey Ambrose to long-term injuries, as well as Greg Garza earlier in the year. The absence of Franco Escobar to yellow card accumulation this week threw that into sharp relief, and Michael Parkhurst is currently sitting on 4 yellows. We can’t have both problems. Neither would be nice, but which is easier to correct?
Discuss amongst yourselves.
While you’re doing that, here are this week’s Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is…(yawn)…Josef Martinez. By season’s end this man will have made a mockery of all MLS scoring records. Special Mention goes to Eric Remedi, giving us a double repeat of last week’s honors. That rumored $2 million transfer fee is already looking like a bargain.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. Rating Brad this week is tough. He made 0 saves in the game, but was powerless to stop either of the two shots on goal Toronto mustered. He was largely untested all afternoon.
LCB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 6. Not a good day for LGP. He attempted 7 tackles (but won only 3 of them), had 3 interceptions, 2 clearances and 1 block. Those are OK numbers give the lack of offensive punch that Toronto displayed, but his sloppy giveaway led directly to the first Toronto goal and he allowed Tosaint Ricketts to get by him on the second Toronto goal. And he also suffered the indignity of Chris Mavinga’s hand to his face.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 7. An OK game, given that he got hurt against Montreal and played in the All-Star Game midweek. 1 interception and 5 clearances (4 of which were in the final 12 minutes). Not amazing numbers, but he did have 93.9% passing accuracy, including completing all but 1 of his passes in the attacking half.
RCB: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. Playing out of position, Jeff did fine. 1 tackle, 4 interceptions and 4 clearances. He did pick up a yellow card, but he’s not getting dinged for it because it was a completely phantom call (one of the few bad calls in the game in fact).
LW: Chris McCann – 7. Chris had a solid game. He pushed forward well, and provided some material defensive support as well. However, his 71.7% passing accuracy left something to be desired, especially since most of his incomplete passes were in the defensive half.
LDM: Eric Remedi – 7.5. An average 83.0% passing accuracy, but like last week he was an immovable object in the middle of the field, forcing Toronto to go around him. He gets dinged for a yellow card picked up for a clearly reckless challenge on Victor Vazquez (although he didn’t make contact).
RDM: Kevin Kratz –6. This was Kevin’s second start this year, and 3rd overall for United. It wasn’t a great showing. He was wandering all over the field with no clear intent, and although his passing was good, it never led to anything much. Subbed out in the 84th minute.
RW: Julian Gressel – 7. Atlanta racked up 21 crosses in the game (Toronto had a mere 5); Julian fired 7 of them. All but one were unsuccessful. Now, crosses are a low-percentage option, much like corner kicks, but still that’s not great. Despite being actively involved in attack, Julian was also a contributor defensively with 4 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 clearances and 1 block.
CAM: Miguel Almiron – 6. I’ve already talked some about Miggy’s performance, which was not good. Of his 6 shots in this game, only 2 were on target. Worse, he goaded Chris Mavinga into a red card, and Toronto will now be without their best defender against NYCFC (whom they play on short rest anyway with a Canadian Championship game midweek).
FWD: Tito Villalba – 7. Tito didn’t exactly sparkle for much of this game: 5 shots and on;ly 1 on target. But his laser-accurate assist on Josef’s second goal makes up for a lot. Taken out at the end of regulation time.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 9. He was so close. He fell one goal short of the season hat trick record and the season scoring record. His scoring streak is now 1 game short of Diego Valeri’s record, and he has more goals than games with 45 in 44 and a staggering goals per 90 of 1.16. Left in the 80th minute with what looked like a hamstring twinge, but luckily he has 15 days to recover.
SUB: Romario Williams – 5. Replaced Josef, but did next to nothing in 10 official minutes.
SUB: Miles Robinson – 5. Came on in the 84th minute presumably to provide defensive support but did even less than Williams. He touched the ball precisely once and never really played himself into the game.
SUB: Brandon Vazquez – N/R. A wasted substitution. I know we were thin in defense on the bench, but this made little sense.
COACH: Tata Martino – 6. Should he have substituted earlier, or maybe kept one in his pocket? I don’t know. But from time to time Tata’s predilection to rely on his starters as much as possible comes back to bite him.
ALL-STAR GAME: 9. It would be a 10, except that Josef’s goal doesn’t count towards his season total.