Things started just as we had all thought they would. Atlanta United scored in the 5th minute with a close-quarters banger from Josef Martinez, fed to him perfectly by Julian Gressel. Then things got…well, boring. At least, boring by Atlanta standards. The first half ended with no further scoring, despite 6 more shots by the mathematically-challenged-Stripes, and 2 less than stellar attempts by Cincinnati. Atlanta managed a massive 67.0% possession though.
The second half started out as more of the same, and then in the 55th minute United got lucky. A headed goal by Fanendo Adi was ruled offside. Here’s the screenshot:
From that angle it looks like Miles Robinson is possibly keeping him onside. Remember that arms don’t count in offside calls and it’s difficult to see just how far Adi in behind him if at all. Also, the AR making the call is at the top of the screen and his view of Robinson is shielded by Adi. All he can see is that Adi is clearly behind Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. In any event, a quick VAR check accepted the decision (probably because it was so tight and the evidence inconclusive).
But take another look. This is a 4-on-3 situation, or even 3-on-2 with Roland Lamah and Michael Parkhurst effectively out of the play on the near side of the penalty area. How does Adi manage to get free in that scenario?
After that, more tedium ensued. Until the 86th minute, when the Atlanta defense messed up again. Take a gander at the next screenshot:
This is more or less where the play begins. At this point, the Atlanta defensive line is pulled left. Nothing really wrong with that, as play is concentrated to that side. But in this situation rather than a 4-on-3 we have a 3-on-4 with Cincinnati holding the advantage stemming from their 4-4-2 formation, with wingers Lamah and Kenny Saief joining strikers Adi and Darren Mattocks. But the back line is so pinched in that they are entirely focused on the two strikers. The two wingers are more or less free to do whatever they want. Brek Shea is occupied with Mathieu Deplagne (I think) who has switched sides and Gressel is all alone doing not much where he would otherwise be. A quick switch from Saief to Lamah, and the damage was done.
That was Cincinnati’s only shot on target in the game, not counting the offside header. But my point here is that defensive breakdowns could easily have seen Atlanta on the wrong side of the scoreline.
This also highlights the potential weakness in the 3-4-3 formation. Unlike the 3-5-2, which we saw much of last season, it is not as strong when switching to defense. The 3-5-2 was played much of the time as a 5-3-2, especially when Atlanta did not have the ball. Obviously, the two wingers in a 3-4-3 are tasked with similar defensive responsibilities, but they are at the same time more focused on possession and attack. When both of them get hung up like they did on the goal, disaster can frequently result. In addition, we have a squad that is suffering from injuries and a lack of familiarity with the system. I n short, Atlanta had better do two things: hang on to the ball and score a lot. They are doing the former just fine (they ended the game with 66.3% possession). But somehow the scoring has gotten lost along the way.
As I said, this was generally a boring game. To be honest, the biggest highlight was when Greg Garza entered for Cincinnati in the 71st minute to a very classy ovation from the home crowd. Other than that and a meager spark when Andrew Carleton entered the game, not so much.
Anyway, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is Miles Robinson. Despite the defensive errors Miles put in in a very solid shift and is making a strong argument for a permanent starting position. Special Mentions go to Julian Gressel and Josef Martinez for combining on a very sweet goal.
GK: Brad Guzan – 6. With just the 1 Cincinnati shot on target, Brad had no saves in this game, although he got his foot very close to Lamah’s shot. Hardly to blame for it.
LB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 4.5. 3 tackles, 1 interception and 1 clearance. And another yellow card. That’s 3 in 6 games. At this rate he’s going to miss a lot of games this season.
CB: Miles Robinson – 7. 1 interception and 4 clearances. Generally a solid performance from Miles, who is clearly justifying de Boer’s confidence in him. Most observers thought this would be Barco’s breakout year; it looks like it might be Miles’.
RB: Michael Parkhurst – 5. 1 tackle and 2 clearances. Looked tired and confused. Can I say again that he is not a right back? Parky is a solid player but we need two center backs.
LWB: Brek Shea – 4. Brek attempted 7 crosses, connecting on just 1. And that was clear across the entire field. Not good enough. His personal heatmap shows him well across the center line for mist of the game, far farther forward than Gressel on the other flank, and well out of position for defensive work.
LHM: Eric Remedi – 6. A rather bland evening for Eric, who had relatively little impact on the game. Covered the middle of the pitch well though. Left after 89 minutes.
RHM: Jeff Larentowicz – 6. Played a generally attacking role. However, Darlington Nagbe he is not.
LWB: Julian Gressel – 6. His assist was great, and he played generally OK, except for taking a rest during the play that led to Cincinnati’s goal.
LM: Pity Martinez – 5. A poor outing for Pity, who had just 71.4% passing accuracy. That’s not good enough. Pulled in the 73rd minute.
RM: Ezequiel Barco – 6. Led all starters in the game with 90.9% passing. Still struggling to find space though. Taken out after 58 minutes.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 6. Opened his 2019 MLS scoring account early, but yet again was left high and dry by his midfield support. Visibly angry and frustrated at the end of the game. Which is a good thing.
SUB: Darlington Nagbe – 5. Came in for Barco in what I assume was a relatively conservative move. Did not perform up to his normal standard.
SUB: Andrew Carleton – 6. Replaced Pity in a like-for-like move. Showed some energy in his first action of the year.
SUB: Kevin Kratz – 5. Late switch for Remedi and pretty much no impact on the game.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 4. Still not making his team and system gel together, and still making some odd lineup and substitution choices.
SUB: Greg Garza - 8. Come back, all is forgiven.
For those of you who paid attention last time around, the answer to the question of which famous ex-soccer player has a connection to Don’t Panic is Frank Lampard. Don’t Panic is of course written on the cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was scripted by Douglas Adams. Adams and Lampard both attended Brentwood School in England. Which you would of course know if like me you had also attended that school.