Atlanta United are on to the next round of the MLS playoffs after a 1-0 win over New England Revolution. Franco Escobar’s sensational finish midway through the second half was enough to see the Five Stripes win in the playoffs yet again. With the upset alert now quieted, it’s time to look back on a very interesting postseason win. Here are some quick thoughts:
- Frank de Boer got it right. Twice. Firstly, the starting lineup was a smart one. Without Miles back there to mop up mistakes, he decided to keep the same shape but be less aggressive overall. While it made for a less exciting match than we’re used to, it was a necessary evil to combat the hole that needed filling and what the circumstances of a do-or-die playoff game calls for.
- Secondly, we have to talk about the masterstroke of genius that was the second half double substitution. Bruce Arena countered the initial plan pretty well, as you’d expect considering it was the second game in a row between these two teams. Adjustments were needed to give Atlanta the edge and Frank pulled a giant rabbit out of his hat. With many expecting Pity Martinez to be the first player off the bench, Frank instead put on both Florentin Pogba and Tito Villalba while also switching the formation to a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1.
- This move ultimately won Atlanta the match as Tito and Gressel pushed forward up the wings, opening space for Barco to operate as a tradition No. 10. His patient and brilliant throughball to Franco Escobar was the result of the shift in tactics.
- While we’re on the subject, Barco deserves a ton of praise for his performance. I tweeted a little before the match started that Barco needed to step up and be a star in these playoffs. De Boer chose him over Pity to be the guy with the keys in the attack. Well, he stepped up. He was lively and dangerous all match, creating chances and getting on the end of them. If we get this Barco through the duration of the playoffs, Atlanta’s repeat chances skyrocket.
- If we’re praising performances, we can’t talk about Michael Parkhurst enough. The captain literally left it all out on the field in a fantastic performance. If this is the last time he ever suits up in a professional match, he can go out with his head held high. What a warrior.