Congratulations are due to Wayne Raccooney and Paul Arriola. Somehow they have found a way to take the most boring and defensively-oriented soccer system in North America – the normally hideous Bennyball – and make it fun and successful.
Prior to the advent of the aforementioned Liverpudlian, DC United had racked up an impressively bad 2-7-5 record. After his arrival and the simultaneous move to Audi Field, they have gone 6-4-1. That’s a shift from PPG of 0.79 to 1.73. If it weren’t for the Seattle Sounders’ ridiculous run, that would be statistically the best turnaround in MLS this season. In light of DC’s long-term languishing near the bottom of the table, it is the best turnaround.
And yet, it was still Bennyball. DC were outplayed in virtually every statistical category, except, of course, the one that counts:
The game was played largely in DC’s half as well. Here’s the heatmap:
The average player positions show this even more clearly:
(Atlanta in blue on the right)
As far as the first DC goal is concerned, Atlanta’s high line was at least in part the reason it was scored. DC keeper Bill Hamid (who is just as much a key upgrade as Raccooney) spotted the high line and exploited it beautifully. Hamid was even credited with the secondary assist on the play, rare for a goalkeeper.
The second DC goal showed the genius behind the decision to play Paul Arriola at right back. This probably laid waste to Atlanta’s game plan. As it relates to Barco specifically, who ended up as the goat on the play, he had presumably been preparing all week to face off against Oniel Fisher and instead found himself up against the speedier and more attack-minded Arriola. Barco wasn’t left in the dust by Arriola, but his marking on the play wasn’t tight enough.
The third DC goal exploited the high line again. Atlanta had just a minute or so before made a double substitution and switched to 3 at the back in a clear decision to go YOLO and rescue the points. With Atlanta still playing high and clearly chasing the game, DC was able to capitalize on the isolation of Jeff Larentowicz in defense and put the game effectively out of reach.
All that being said, if the team had responded to Tata’s demands for more speed in the second half, the outcome would likely have been far different. Defensive weaknesses notwithstanding, the first half had been decent. In the second half, the team looked tired and out of sync. It was arguably the worst half of soccer the team had played since the disastrous first half against Houston way back in week 1.
As a result, Atlanta squandered the opportunity to clinch a playoff spot and put space between themselves and the two New York teams, who had both lost on Saturday. The September 30 game at Red Bull Arena now looms even larger than it already did. Before that game, Atlanta plays Colorado and San Jose away, and then Real Salt Lake at home. San Jose is already out of the playoffs and has little to play for and Colorado is all but done as well. Salt Lake on the other hand is riding high and is no longer the pushover it once was. The Red Bulls play at DC and then host Toronto. Those are two unpredictable games. It could be very close going into that showdown.
In a less than buoyant mood, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is Jeff Larentowicz. About 37 minutes into the game I mentioned in the DSS Slack that he was the best performer in the game to that point, and he iced it by scoring his second Atlanta goal barely a minute later. No Special Mentions this week, because, let’s face it, no one was very special. Except maybe in a church lady kind of way.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. Brad can hardly be faulted for the two breakaway goals, and no more so for the penalty kick. He made 2 saves in the game, one of which was routine and the other a difficult foot save.
LB: Chris McCann – 5. A much more attacking game from McCann than usual (his heatmap is pretty much equal to Julian Gressel’s). His passing was solid at 93.2% accuracy as well. But he sloooows everything down. Also, on the PK play, he left Barco with sole coverage duty on the wing by pulling all the way in to the center circle. He was in fact further right than LGP.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 5.5. Led all players with 99 touches and 88 passes. Also had 5 tackles, 1 interception, 1 clearance and 1 block. Got mad as hell with Barco at least once, and loses half a point for the yellow on a very professional foul. Difficult to quantify, but he was definitely off his game.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 6. Largely invisible in the 63 minutes he played, exiting the game in a rare substitution. For defensive plays, he logged just 1 block.
RB: Julian Gressel – 6. Julian had 4 shots, unusually high for him, one on target and two blocked. His passing was off, including no connections on 7 attempted crosses. Here’s his overall passing map:
Those failed passes in the defensive third look ominous.
DM: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. 2 tackles, 1 interception, 1 clearance, 1 block. And of course, the goal. He was the arguably the last man on Luciano Acosta’s goals, but he wasn’t formally on the back line for the first, and was caught in a 1v1 for the second.
DM: Eric Remedi – 5.5. Generally an off day for Remedi. The silly dive and the resulting yellow didn’t help, of course. 3 tackles and 2 interceptions defensively, and a lowish 88.9% passing accuracy in attack, and there was little forward movement in his passes anyway.
LM: Ezequiel Barco – 5.5. A very rough night for Zeke, but perhaps not as bad as some might think. The PK was pretty clear-cut, and arguing it was silly. Taking him out in the 76th minute was a smart move, not so much to protect him from a double yellow, but more because after the PK he was clearly struggling to produce anything creative in attack. However, bear in mind that it was his corner kick that produced the only Atlanta goal, and that Chris McCann blew his coverage on the PK incident. He also hit the woodwork on a reaction shot, and his 91.3% passing accuracy was 3rd best among the starters. Call it a learning experience. See here for more thoughts on Zeke’s season.
CAM: Miguel Almiron – 6. Despite Atlanta controlling the ball, Miggy had a mere 58 touches, third lowest among the Atlanta starters (only Tito and Josef had fewer, and Tito was pulled after 76 minutes). He spent most of the game in zone 14, which is where he should be, but failed to do anything useful. He had 4 shots in the game, but only one on target.
RM: Tito Villalba – 6. Another sub-par performance for Tito. Although he had 2 of Atlanta’s 6 shots on target, he was evidently out of sorts and was unable to generate much. Taken out after 76 minutes.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 6. All streaks come to an end. Josef didn’t even get a shot on target, including a miss was that so similar to his record-breaker last week it was painful. It simply wasn’t his might. However, he did have three clearances from inside the 18.
SUB: Kevin Kratz – 4. Replaced Parky after 63 minutes. Foiled by Hamid on an excellently struck free kick. Other than that, didn’t do very much in 27 official minutes, having a total of just 25 touches.
SUB: Romario Williams – 4. A wasted substitution. Coming on in the 76th minute, Romario touched the ball just 3 times.
SUB: George Bello – 6. Came on for Tito in a double switch, and at 16 years and 223 days became Atlanta’s youngest ever first team player by 109 days (Andrew Carleton was 16 years and 332 days old when he played against Houston on 5/20/17). He was pretty active too: 17 touches and 16 passes, although his completion rate was low at 84.6%, but that is partly because he was bombing balls into the box (5 of them in fact).
COACH: Tata Martino – 7. Can’t really blame Tata for the team’s collapse in the second half. He wanted more speed and they didn’t give it to him.
MRS. MARTINO: 10. Apparently her English lessons are quite comprehensive.