OK, first the good news: it wasn’t as bad a start as last year’s. And Atlanta United recovered pretty well from that disaster, right?
The bad news: last year the Five Stripes had 33 games to get over it. This year, the n Stripes have just one game to do so, and have to win it by at least two goals. Moreover, they to do it in Kennesaw without the massed faithful urging them on.
About the best that can be said for this game is that it wasn’t as bad as Toronto FC’s miserable showing against Independiente of Panama. Other than that, it was a complete [insert curse word of your preference here] disaster.
Defensively, it was catastrophic. All three goals came from hideous errors that a team in mid-season form would not have committed, and there were others that could easily have ended in more goals. This stemmed partly from rust (always a problem for MLS teams in the CCl at this stage) and partly from a new and unfamiliar scheme under Frank de Boer. Not a good combination, to say the least.
Offensively, there were some sparks, but Herediano didn’t just park a bus, they pulled a train in and left it at the crossing. The Costa Ricans’ 4-man back line was very organized and generally was supported by 2 or even 3 midfielders, making it a very frustrating night for Atlanta’s high-powered attack.
Atlanta , in general, looked disjointed and unready. They also seemed anxious. The game started at a frenetic pace (which was ultimately and obviously unsustainable), as if United were desperate to score early. It proved costly. And that pace didn’t really slow down until Darlington Nagbe entered the game in the 59th minute.
There’s a lot of work to be done to right the ship before Thursday. Let’s hope they get it worked out.
In a not particularly good mood, on to the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is a tough one. I’m going to go with Darlington Nagbe, in a rare honor for a substitute, but he brought some sanity to the game, calming it down somewhat. Special Mention goes to Miles Robinson, who was probably the least error-prone defender on the night.
GK: Brad Guzan - 6. Brad had to do a lot of shouting. And probably did a lot more in the locker room. Completely abandoned by his back line, as well as by Julian Gressel on the third set piece goal, there was little he could do to stop the bleeding. Still, he made 3 saves in the game.
LB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez - 4. Possibly, no almost certainly, LGP’s worst game for Atlanta. The back header that gave up the first goal was a screw-up of epic proportions, and he made a few other errors as well. He did wake up a but in the second half and made a few strong tackles. But overall a night to forget. Quickly.
CB: Miles Robinson - 6. Now in his 3rd season, Miles made just his 4th start. He was clearly the team’s best defender, and at one point made a goal line save very much like Parky’s in the 2017 playoff game against Columbus Crew.
RB: Michael Parkhurst - 5. Parky was out of position and didn’t look comfortable at all. He is a central defender and not much else. Likely he will move back into that role when Franco Esccobar is healthy.
LWB: George Bello - 4.5. Bello gets docked a half point for the team’s only card of the game. Overall, I don’t think he played as poorly as some (alright, most) seem to think. It was however an unnecessarily high stakes situation for him to start in, and he suffered as a result. Nevertheless, he did not give the impression of being a kid in a man’s game and was not intimidated by the CONCACAFy tactics of Herediano.
LHM: Eric Remedi - 5. Overall, a poor game for Remedi. Despite being one of the few players on the squad in his natural position, he as just as unready to play as everyone else. Not a good performance.
RHM: Jeff Larentowicz - 5. Jeff spent a good deal of the game looking more like a wingback than a holding mid. But he looked just as hurried as the rest of the team, and was not effective in the role.
RWB: Julian Gressel - 6. Gets credit for the lone Atlanta goal, but was also responsible for the last Herediano goal. that’s a wash, I suppose. Other than that, he was largely out of the game.
LM: Ezequiel Barco - 5. As usual, Barco drew fouls galore. However, he did play as direct he had in the preseason, tending to go horizontal again. However, there wasn’t much room for him to go forward. Left in the 59th minute.
RM: Pity Martinez - 6. Obviously not Pity’s best game, but he showed a few hints of what he can do, and as such was one of the few bright spots for Atlanta. Hopefully very soon. Exited after 76 minutes.
FWD: Josef Martinez - 5. Managed just 3 shots all game, and had one good headed attempt that went wide. He looked typically frustrated at not generating chances, and that will likely bleed over into the return leg.
SUB: Darlington Nagbe - 6. As previously noted, Nagbe was the one who kept his head while all about were losing theirs. Considering his limited practice time with the 1st XI, this was impressive.
SUB Tito Villalba - 6. Hit the post in stoppage time, and if he had put it in, Atlanta’s task this Thursday would be vastly easier.
COACH: Frank de Boer - 5. Not a good start to his tenure, shall we say. Is his approach the right one for this squad? Will he get used to soccer in the Americas? That and many other questions will need to be answered.
HEREDIANO MEDICAL CREW - 1. With a stretcher that looked like they bought it at an army surplus store, and wearing hard hats, they looked like a group of extras from MASH. Although, to be fair, going out onto a soccer field in Central America is not that different from entering a war zone.