Trivia question: other than Atlanta United, what do Darren Eales, Michael Parkhurst, Jeff Larentowicz, Julian Gressel and Miles Robinson all have in common?
The answer is New England. All of them were either born, attended college, played soccer, or achieved some combination of those in the region. Eales, Parkhurst and Gressel all have links to the city of Providence, Rhode Island (which is closer to Gillette Stadium than Boston, despite Fox Sports South’s insistence on showing aerial shots of Beantown during the broadcast). That city is rather aptly named for a visiting team that was direly in need of a confidence booster. Not to mention 3 points.
Somehow, I think New England are going to be similarly generous to quite a few teams this season. Based on Saturday’s performance, they look pretty bad. Coach Frank de Boer stated after the game that he thought the score “could’ve been 6-1 or 7-1.” I have absolutely no idea how he figured that. Where on earth did he think the Revs were going to get a goal from?
The Revs attack was so weak that they generated just 1 shot on target all night, and that in the 77th minute from substitute Tajon Buchanan. That shot was relatively weak and easily handled by Brad Guzan. It gets worse. Here’s what Matt Doyle had to say:
[The Revs] conceded 2+ goals for the fourth time in their last six, were shut out for the fourth time in their last six, and still have a season-long total of zero shots on goal from any of their center forwards.
Atlanta has now outscored New England 12-2 over 5 games (but somehow managed to draw two of them). 7 of those came in that one game back in 2017 when the Revs played down 2 men, and thus it is probably fair to say that this was the Revs’ worst result against the If-you-only-count-the-red-ones-on-the front-there’s-still-five Stripes to date. Moreover, the shot production (just 7 total) was their worst against Atlanta since that 2017 game, in which they didn’t record a single shot.
All that being said, this game was in all likelihood how the game two weeks ago against the Columbus Crew should have played out rather than turning into a polar swim. De Boer stuck with the 4-3-3 and it worked perfectly despite having to play shell games with his back line yet again and being forced into an early substitution in the game itself. The vertical play we had seen some indication of in Ohio became manifestly clear in Massachusetts.
Three things happened in this game that contributed to the win:
- New England committed to the high press, coming out in the 4-2-3-1 formation Atlanta used almost exclusively in 2017. Given how a) the Revs have been struggling, and b) how Atlanta has struggled against teams sitting back, this was a dubious game plan. One thing Atlanta has not managed to achieve much so far this season is penetration. New England more or less invited them to try it.
- Atlanta did not dominate possession. With just 46.5% possession, Atlanta was on the short end of this stat for the first time this year. They also had less passes overall and lower passing accuracy than New England. However, an impressive 47.4% of Atlanta’s passes was in the attacking half and 20.3% in the final third. Further, of Atlanta’s 9 crosses, 56% connected, and a couple more should have. With all that, United attempted a whopping 19 shots.
- The forced substitution. It is not clear why de Boer decided not to start Ezequiel Barco, but the injury to Eric Remedi within 10 seconds of kick-off and his eventual exit 15 minutes later brought him on and necessitated some lineup juggling. The most obvious result was that the formation became more attacking in nature, but the most effective result was probably that Barco and Tito Villalba were able to start switching flanks more or less at will and utterly confound the New England defense.
Some more on the shot production: this was Atlanta’s best output in MLS this season, but it should be noted that the shot total has increased with every game played. Shots on target (8 in this game) have also been generally on an upward trend. Obviously, that has to top out sooner or later. Last season Atlanta averaged 15 shots (4th overall) and 6 shots on target (3rd overall). So far this season the team is averaging 13.2 (11th) and 4.2 (13th). If Atlanta can keep up similar numbers to Saturday’s, then we should see further improvement in results.
So, with thanks to New England hospitality, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match was Ezequiel Barco. I see nobody fainting in shock at that selection. Easily his best game yet, including a Goal of the Week nomination (as of this writing he is leading the vote with a massive 70%). Special Mentions go to Tito Villalba, who also had a very good game, and to Josef Martinez, who clearly looked quite happy to be playing a supporting role for once.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. It’s a bit tough to rate a keeper who only had to deal with a single shot. Which was straight at his chest. Generally as solid as ever, though.
LB: Brek Shea – 6. I’ve been down on Shea for a good few weeks now. In this game he was clearly the weakest link on the back line, and was embarrassingly bad defending crosses. Even so, 2 tackles, 2 interceptions and 4 clearances.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 8. LGP was in control all night. 4 tackles, 2 interceptions, 6 clearances and 1 block. He even got a shot in. Oh, and no yellow card.
CB: Miles Robinson – 7.5. A yellow card for a fairly rough tackle was the only blemish on another good outing. 2 tackles, 4 interceptions and 4 clearances. Miles has now gone the full 90 in all 9 games this season. That’s 1 shy of his total appearances previously over two years, and 538 minutes more than he previously logged.
RB: Michael Parkhurst – 7. Back in the starting lineup and back to wearing the armband. Defensively he wasn’t taxed: 1 tackle, 1 interception and 2 clearances. Probably because even the Revs could figure out Brek Shea was easier pickings. Parky even got a shot on target.
LM: Eric Remedi – N/R. Eric’s effectiveness lasted all of 10 seconds in this game, although he braved it out until the 15th minute. He probably shouldn’t have.
SUB: Ezequiel Barco – 9. I usually list subs at the bottom, but this case merits otherwise. In addition to his first 2-goal game for Atlanta, including that jaw-dropping golazo, he was aggressive going forward. His passing accuracy was low though at 60.9%, but look at what he was attempting:
Only one truly horizontal play there. And three nice corners into the penalty area. Left in the 87th minute the rare sub-for-sub switch.
CM: Jeff Larentowicz – 6.5. Gets docked for the yellow card, but other than that hardly put a foot wrong. Chalked up a very creditable 80.7% passing accuracy.
RM: Darlington Nagbe – 7. Both MLSsoccer.com and whoscored.com show Darlington as the central attacking mid in a 4-2-3-1 setup. You wouldn’t necessarily think that based on his play:
His passing chart reflects that: 71% of his 55 passes were in the defensive half. That’s defensively oriented. So, this was a 4-3-3 setup, designed to play as a 4-2-1-2-1 with Darlington as the pivot. As usual, he led all players in the game with passing accuracy of 90.9%.
LAM: Tito Villalba – 8. Tito had easily his best game in a while. He was credited with assists on both Barco goals (although the second was largely a solo effort) and topped the Audi Index with 1024 points. Exited after 78 minutes in a park-the-bus move.
RAM: Julian Gressel – 8. Nothing on the scoreboard for Julian Saturday, but he was working at it. 5 shots, 2 on target. His partnership with Josef continues to strengthen, and Josef is as much supporting him as the other way round.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. He could have lit it up. That first breakaway chance was definitely offside and would almost certainly have been called back after video review, but he was creating chances left, right and center. 5 shots and numerous attempted assists.
SUB: Franco Escobar – 7. Came on in the 77th minute with de Boer choosing to go 5 at the back. He played on the left, an unnatural position, but did the job: 3 tackles, 1 interception and 1 clearance.
SUB: Pity Martinez – 7. Entered the game with 4 official minutes left, and didn’t really have much to do. Coach graciously letting him save his energy for the honeymoon.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 7. Some odd lineup choices again, but the game plan couldn’t have been better.
MLS SCHEDULING: 0. With yet another two-week break, I damn near forgot there was a game Saturday. Next weekend against FC Dallas will be the first game at the Benz in 34 days. Are we the Portland Timbers now?