That was much more like it, wasn’t it? Facing a near impossible 3-goal deficit, Atlanta United could easily have said screw it, time to play the backups. They did not. Instead, they came out with as nearly a full starting lineup as possible and played with energy and determination unlike any game so far this season. The difference was evident. It was an exciting game, and the good guys won. Not by enough, of course, but a win is a win and it is definitely something to build on.
Especially against a club as strong as Monterrey, who also came out with a nearly full-strength team. Admittedly, they were not going to be as concerned with scoring, although they apparently wanted to, despite also deciding to play Crossbar Challenge. This was also a club that has not been beaten yet this year in 13 games and one that is outspending and pretty much outplaying all comers in Liga MX. The Do-the-ones-on-the-back-count-as-partials Stripes will not face another team as strong this season. At least, not until the Campeones Cup, when they will face either Club America (who won the Apertura) or the winner of the Liga MX Clausura.
This was YOLO soccer at its finest, but it was also a well-executed demonstration of what Frank de Boer wants this team to do. Continuing injuries and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez’ yellow card suspension forced more formation tweaks This time around we saw Michael Parkhurst flip to the left back position, and Mikey Ambrose back to his preferred left wing. Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez also swapped sides (de Boer seems to do a lot of this). Whatever the inspiration for the changes, they clearly worked.
Atlanta’s possession dominance continued, at 63.1%. They outpassed Monterrey 607-367, and managed 84% accuracy, including 69% in the final third. As a result they outshot the Rayados 13-8, although they were tied in shots on target at 4. To demonstrate how much more effective this passing was, take a look at this chart:
That shows every Atlanta player who completed at least one pass into the penalty area. There were seven of them. A massive improvement from previous showings. This kind of productive possession is how FdB really wants the team to play, and on Wednesday it looked like the entire team had had a eureka moment and suddenly got it.
The key of course is to hold on to whatever got into their heads and apply it to the MLS season. Atlanta plays the Philadelphia Union Sunday evening and then gets a much needed international break and doesn’t play again until March 30th at the Columbus Crew (who in fact play the Union away during the international break). Right now they are respectively the best and worst teams in the Eastern Conference. It will also help that the Union will play this weekend without newly acquired DP Marco Fabian, who thought it was a good idea to jump on Sporting Kansas City’s Johnny Russell last week.
So, with one eye on the future, let’s get to the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match was tough again; we had quite a few players distinguish themselves. In the end, the honors go to Miles Robinson again. It’s beginning to be a mystery why Tata didn’t play him more. Special Mentions are awarded to Josef Martinez and Darlington Nagbe for combining on that very sweet goal.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. A 4-save performance from Brad, who looked generally very confident all night, even n the double crossbar tap.
LB: Michael Parkhurst – 7. Parky has nor played all 3 positions on the back line in just 6 games. 2 tackles, 2 clearances and 6 recoveries. Picked up a yellow card for getting really angry at a ludicrous call, but doesn’t get dinged a half point because a) it doesn’t matter since Atlanta are out of CCL, b) he was entirely justified, and c) passion, man. Exited the game after 76 minutes.
CB: Miles Robinson – 9. 3 interceptions, 1 clearance, 12 recoveries. Generally held Rogelio Funes Mori in check, which was a very tall order. The case for a permanent starting slot has been made.
RB: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. The loss of LGP for the evening forced the shift to the back line. 1 interception, 1 clearance and 4 recoveries. A decent day’s work.
Note the defensive play totals. The back line combined for the low counts of 2 tackles (neither of which were in the defensive third), 4 interceptions (only 1 in the defensive third) and 4 clearances (all in the penalty area). The remainder of the team added 5 more tackles, 2 interceptions and 1 clearance. The name of the game was recoveries. The back line had 22. The entire team racked up 77. Of those, just 19 were in the box (16 by Guzan).
LWB: Mikey Ambrose – 6. Back to his favored left side, and was much more in his comfort zone. Could still have been bossed by Carlos Rodriguez and Miguel Layun, but held his own.
LHM: Darlington Nagbe – 8. Much more penetrative play Wednesday from Nagbe, and the setup for the goal was remarkable. I’d call it a wall pass, since the ball came from Josef originally, but given the number of defenders he had to slot it through, it was in fact a hole-in-the-wall pass.
RHM: Eric Remedi – 7. Did exactly what a holding mid is supposed to do. That is, he held.
LWB: Julian Gressel – 7. Not a spectacular night from Julian, but he was dominant on the wing and was key to keeping play from entering the defensive third too much.
LM: Ezequiel Barco – 8. Getting better withe very game. Much more direct play from Barco, who looked very determined. Taken out in the 76th minute in a double switch.
RM: Pity Martinez – 6. I had to think about this a while. Pity’s play was for the most part not that strong, but his long-range shooting was unbelievable. When he connects, it’s going to be GOTY caliber stuff. However, he was evidently utterly gassed from the compressed schedule, and was pulled after just 65 minutes.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. How often does a striker get the hockey assist on his own goal? That was some play.
SUB: Tito Villalba – 7. Got 35 official minutes, but didn’t really do all that much with them.
SUB: Florentin Pogba – 6. The Brogba era has begun. Clearly not really in match form, given that he hasn’t played in nearly a year, and that wayward switch pass was kind of embarrassing.
SUB: Kevin Kratz – 7. Was pretty effective replacing Barco. Even got a long distance shot on target.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 7. Does he have the team where he wants it now? Let’s hope so.
THE HOME DEPOT: – -10. I didn’t spot this in Monterrey, but what is Arthur Blank doing sponsoring the opposition?