This team is beginning to look a bit schizophrenic. One game off, one game on, one game off. This loss, the fifth in seven games with DC United, can probably be attributed to three factors: fatigue, lineup changes and poor execution.
I almost added weather into that mix, but DC were playing in exactly the same conditions, albeit at home, so it’s hardly an excuse.
Fatigue is perhaps a relatively minor factor, although we are still in the very early stage of this season and Atlanta has already had extensive travel and is not in midseason condition yet. It cannot be discounted, especially when a huge road game is looming just three days later.
The lineup changes were, well, odd. Frank de Boer has already come under some criticism for his personnel choices. Starting Tito Villalba instead of Pity Martinez made sense, but Mikey Ambrose for Julian Gressel was a headscratcher. So far as I am aware, Mikey has never played right wing in his career. As game as he is, he looked completely at sea (which, given the rain, he very nearly was). De Boer is still getting to know his team, so I am willing to cut him some slack. And let’s not forget that Tata Martino’s lineups were not always optimal.
Finally, several players on the team just simply did not play well. In particular, Brek Shea, who was great Wednesday evening, looked, well, terrible and completely out of sorts. Having a system, whether you are used to it or not, is only useful if you don’t screw the pooch.
Shea was not the only culprit, of course. The team as a whole failed to produce the kind of attacking force we have come to expect. The To-Be-Determined Stripes simply could not penetrate the DC back line. Here’s the heatmap:
From this, it appears that Atlanta did about as well on this front than DC. But, despite having only 43.8% possession, DC outshot Atlanta 17-9, and had 9 shots on target to Atlanta’s miserable 2. Moreover, of the 19 shots, 13 were inside the box. For Atlanta? Just 2.
And yet, to be fair, DC’s goals came off a corner that should never have been given (set piece defending again) and on a long range shot that took an unfortunate skip past Brad Guzan. Neither team wrapped itself in attacking glory on Sunday. In fact, the game was, all things considered, pretty boring.
Note how many entered the penalty area. A mere 5. Now look at the same graphic for DC:
Much less dense; Atlanta outpassed DC 357 to 293 in the attacking half, which you would expect given the possession difference. But note how much more effective at getting into the box DC was. Yellows are designated key passes, by the way. Lots of those here.
Now let’s flip it. Here are the unsuccessful passes in the attacking half:
Ugh. Amazingly, Atlanta generated 85% passing accuracy. But that’s not so hard to do if all you are doing is knocking it around in the midfield. Which evidently was DC’s game plan.
One last comment: Atlanta’s 2 shots on target were both from extreme long distance. One from Eric Remedi in the 69th minute (forcing a stretch save from Bill Hamid), and the second from Pity Martinez in second half added time.
Obviously, this needs to be fixed, and fast. Possession may be the hallmark of Frank de Boer’s system, but he’s got to find a way to make it count.
Anyway, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is, for the second straight game, Ezequiel Barco. If only for the fact that he looked like the only Atlanta player actually trying to create something. Special Mention goes to Brad Guzan, who was also working pretty hard.
GK: Brad Guzan – 6. Despite getting wrong-footed on Luciano Acosta’s evilly bouncing goal, Bradf made 4 good saves on the night and nearly had a rare assist when he Launched a long ball to Tito Villalba, who was open at the other end and slipped in the box.
LB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 6. Not a great outing, but not too bad either. 2 interceptions, 1 clearance and 2 blocks.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 6. 1 tackle, 2 interceptions, 7 clearances and 1 block. A solid evening’s work, but that’s several clearances too many...
RB: Miles Robinson – 6. 3 tackles, 2 interceptions and 8 clearances. That’s way too many. But Miles is looking increasingly confident in the right back role.
LWB: Brek Shea – 4. Coming off an excellent game in Kennesaw, Shea was..not good. He consistently tried to hurry his crosses, and invariably connected with a defender immediately in his path.
LHM: Darlington Nagbe – 5. As usual, very high passing accuracy at 95.8%, but Nagbe was unable to find any useful passing lanes going vertical.
RHM: Eric Remedi – 5. Fairly solid in his defensive responsibilities, but going forward had the same problems as his partner Nagbe.
RWB: Mikey Ambrose – 3.5. Out of position, and really suffered as a result. A very low passing percentage of 76.9% (lowest of all field starters). Also picked up a yellow card. Taken out after 58 minutes.
LM: Tito Villalba – 5. In what is now a rare start for Tito, he did not produce. In 58 minutes he had just two long range shots, both off target.
RM: Ezequiel Barco – 7. As mentioned above, Barco was really trying to find a way to make something happen, but simply couldn’t. Played 76 minutes and was fouled of course (twice), but never got in range to attempt a shot.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 5. What can you say about a striker who gets stuck up top all alone with no service?
SUB: Julian Gressel – 6. Came in for Ambrose and was an obvious and immediate improvement. Bit yet again, completely failed to penetrate effectively.
SUB: Pity Martinez – 6. Replaced Tito and also showed some life, but looked miserable in the cnditions, both on and off the field.
SUB: Jeff Larentowicz – 4.5. Came in for Barco, presumably just to give the youngster a rest in a game that was clearly going nowhere. Picked up a yellow for a necessary tactical foul.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 5. Probably wishing that he had a healthy Franco Escobar, who would have been the obvious replacement for Gressel at right wing.
WEATHER - 0. Forecast at kickoff Wednesday in Monterrey, Mexico is 50° with 0% chance of precipitation. No wonder the team was so high on playing in CCL.