Blame this one on Toronto. Or Tigres. Or CONCACAF. Or Univision. Yeah, especially Univision. Scheduling a midweek game for which one team has to cross three time zones is bad enough. But then forcing them to kick off at 11pm by their own body clocks because…Campeones Cup?
Oddly, it wasn’t until after midnight Eastern that Atlanta got moving. 66 minutes of near total embarrassment were followed by 30 minutes of normality. Maybe they all had a shot of 5-hour ENERGY® at half-time and it took that long to kick in.
Those 66 minutes were easily the worst Atlanta had played since the first half against Houston lo these many moths ago. If not worse. And then came…the game-changer.
Games turn on moments. The reversal of Chris Wondolowski’s goal certainly counts, but it wasn’t the first key moment in the game. That happened in the 27th minute when Guram Kashia blocked a Tito Villalba blast on the goal line. That would have tied the game at 1-1 and things would have gone very differently. Find it somewhere in the multiverse.
San Jose fans (what few of them may still be around) will vehemently disagree with me on this, but Fotis Bazakos had an excellent game at center referee. To recap:
- The early yellow cards to Franco Escobar and Jeff Larentowicz were both fully deserved (and possibly contributed to the horrific defensive performance).
- He stepped in to manage a potential mass confrontation
- He checked on Shea Salinas’ possible concussion.
- He correctly awarded the Atlanta penalty kick.
- He correctly did not call for a handball on Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.
As far as the Decision is concerned (I think it probably deserves the capital letter), despite the incessant bleatings of Cantor and Berry, it did not take 1 minute and 40 seconds of game time. The entire time elapsed between the handball by Magnus Eriksson and Bazakos whistling the PK was less than 4 minutes (65:33 to 69:20). That includes time taken by the goal celebration, the video review itself, explaining it to the players and then marching all the way to the opposite end of the field for the PK and getting it set up. In terms of actual playing time, only 31 seconds passed.
The current setup for VAR is that a video review cannot be held until there is a natural stoppage in play or when “the ball is in a neutral zone/situation”. The latter situation rarely occurs, and certainly did not in this case. Bazakos had to wait until the goal was scored. The Laws also state “There is no time limit for the review process as accuracy is more important than speed”.
San Jose interim coach Steve Ralston agreed that the final decision was correct, by the way. Nevertheless, you have to feel for the Quakes, who were probably playing their best game of the season. It took all the air out of their sails, and rejuvenated Atlanta. It could have been worse, though. Consider this: what if, rather than scoring a goal, Wondo had been fouled in the box for a PK?
In the end, Atlanta came away with the 3 points, albeit after rather a harder fight than expected. Additionally, with Columbus losing earlier in the evening, the Five Stripes can now finish no worse than third, which would mean a home game against the 6th seed in the first round. Atlanta did use up its game in hand, but is now 4 points clear at the top of the table, and also holds the first and second tiebreakers (wins, then goal difference). The magic number to clinch a first-round bye is 4 points (if they include a win, otherwise 5 points). 12 points clinch the Supporters’ Shield. 7 points clinch a CCL spot. Atlanta also currently holds both tiebreakers on that, too, including a 2-win lead and a massive 30-goal GD lead.
Alrighty then. Here are the Dirty South Soccer players ratings:
Man of the Match is of course Josef Martinez. Another 2 goals to his already ridiculous tally. Special Mentions go to Tito Villalba for his golazo and to Ezequiel Barco, who injected some energy and enthusiasm after half time.
GK: Brad Guzan – 6. I am always loath to criticize keepers for goals, but Brad did let 4 in. He also made 4 saves and frankly was utterly mystified on his back line’s apparent inability to stop anything.
LB: Chris McCann – 4. The primary culprit on Valeri Qazaishvili’s goal (man, is Vako easier to type). He was surprisingly second on the team in touches (73) and passes (63). At least he was (marginally) better than Escobar on the right.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 6. The only decent spot on defense, and that is saying very little. 1 tackle and 4 clearances. Sub par.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 5. I said of parky after the Colorado game that he looked gassed. Wednesday he was clearly running on empty. He needs a break, desperately. Still, 2 tackles, 1 interception, 4 clearances and 1 block. he has racked 2,543 minutes so far this season, second on the team after Miguel Almiron by 11 minutes. But Miggy is 10 years younger.
RB: Franco Escobar – 3.5. A horrific night for Franco in his first game in exactly a month. Hobbled by an early yellow card for arguing (that’s incredibly dumb in the 7th minute) and things went downhill from there. Yanked in the 70th minute.
LM: Eric Remedi – 6. His worst Atlanta game so far? Very likely. Had a great pairing with Darlington Nagbe, but looked uncomfortable without him, and also in the 4-3-3.
CM: Jeff Larentowicz – 4.5. Another early and silly yellow. Jeff played only half the game, and did very little in that half.
RM: Julian Gressel – 6. A less than optimal performance overall was saved by his assist on Tito’s first half goal. Had a miserably low 58.3% passing accuracy. Utterly untypical.
FWD: Miguel Almiron – 7. Also a low passing accuracy at 80.8%, but got the 3rd goal and had the assist on the last-minute heartbreaker. All over the field as usual.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. Another PK. Another headed goal. He is now at 49 goals in 49 games. Will he make it 50 in 50 at home on Saturday in front of a full house?
FWD: Tito Villalba – 8. Another golazo worthy of Goal of the Week. Tito had 4 shots in the game, and all were on goal. Deserved at least one more. Left after 87 minutes.
SUB: Ezequiel Barco – 7. Replaced Jeff at half time to inject some offensive punch. He looked lively and engaged, and ultimately had a very smart secondary assist on the final goal.
SUB: Kevin Kratz – 6. Came on for Escobar in another attempt to push the game forward. Didn’t do very much.
SUB: Brandon Vazquez – 6. Came in late for his 6th appearance this season. Probably a good late offensive choice in most games, but was not involved in that final play.
COACH: Tata Martino – 6. Tata was let down by his team but the lineup decision clearly was off. He tried a fix pulling Jeff for Barco in a rare half-time substitution, but it worked only moderately until late.
ME: 10. The game ended after 1 am on 9/20. That means Atlanta are now 2-0-0 on my birthday.