I’m going to start this with a hot take: under normal conditions, Atlanta United wins this game.
Back to that in a moment, but first: this match was a disgrace and MLS and PRO should be thoroughly embarrassed they allowed it to be played.
Consider this: my hometown Birmingham Legion were scheduled to kick off in Louisville at 7 p.m. ET Saturday, a half hour earlier than the Atlanta game. Louisville is about 200 miles southwest of Columbus. They had a rain delay, probably from the same storm that hit Columbus. When did they finally kick off? 15 hours later at 10 a.m. ET Sunday. If the USL Championship can make reasonable decisions on postponements, why on earth can’t MLS? Sunday’s weather in Columbus was cloudy with a high of 37° and a miniscule 0.02” of precipitation. That’s barely colder than Saturday evening and a hell of a lot drier.
I’ve only ever seen a game played in worse conditions once. Unfortunately, I saw it from the middle of the field because I was the referee. It was a few years ago in the Alabama Youth State Cup tournament and scheduling forced the game to be played. If postponing the game had been an option I would have done so. But all the games had to be played that weekend and so the first round of games were played with an inch or more of standing water on the fields. The balls actually floated.
This was almost as bad, but a regular season top-flight professional match is an entirely different matter. If nothing else, the game should have been halted at half time, when an extra 15 minutes of downpour made the field utterly unplayable. Continuing the game made a mockery of the sport and put the players at risk. Of drowning, on top of everything else, such as adductor strains and broken jaws.
In the DSS Slack channel right after they restarted the game following the rain delay I said “This is about to turn into a game of keepy-uppy.” And it did. The only way to control the ball was to keep it in the air. Any attempt to pass it on the
ground slip-n-slide had a dismal result, usually the ball stopping dead well short of its target. At one point a Crew player (I forget who) literally played keepy-uppy and actually dribbled the ball by juggling it.
Anyway, back to my first point. The only part of the game that can reasonably be looked at from an analytical standpoint is the first 30:28 up until the rain delay. And even that is a bit of a stretch. But, with the exception of both fullbacks going to sleep on Pedro Santos’ goal, the Do-Speedos-Come-in-Stripes looked in control of the game. Moreover, they were playing much more like the Atlanta United of 2018.
That is, they were playing much more vertically than we have seen them do in previous games this season. Frank de Boer had them come out in the 4-3-3 that had looked fairly positive in the latter stages of the Philadelphia Union game two weeks earlier, and it was working, after a fashion.
Here’s the passing map for that first part of the game:
Yes, there’s a fair degree of lateral movement, but there was also good penetration into the attacking half. Ultimately, Atlanta racked up 4 shots in that first stretch, two of them on target and two of them from inside the penalty area. Columbus had just the 1 shot in that period.
Compare that to the passing chart for the rest of the game:
An utter but unsurprising mess. It looks like they were attempting to do the same, but with far less success.
Columbus’ passing was worse, though:
First 30:28 is on the left. Columbus had 41% possession for that period, and did relatively little with it. Except score, of course. For the remainder of the game they kept pace in possession, more or less, but the passing was much thinner, indicating they were not truly keeping control of the ball. The passing also looks more vertical than Atlanta’s. So what they were really doing was just booting the ball upfield. Which, when you aren’t chasing the game in such conditions, is not a bad game plan.
In the end, Atlanta outshot Columbus 16-8 overall and 5-3 on target. And 3 of Columbus’ shots were on a single play in the 54th minute (2 attempts by Robinho, one of which hit the post, and one by Gyasi Zardes). 10 of Atlanta’s shots were from inside the 18. That’s a huge improvement.
In the end, there are two reasons Atlanta United lost this game. And no, one of them isn’t the rain. Here they are, in no particular order:
- Zack Steffen’s right hand
- Zack Steffen’s left hand
5 saves in the game all told. Atlanta fans should be thoroughly tired of that individual repeatedly standing on his head. Thankfully, by the time we next see the Crew, Steffen will be in Manchester. Or Gerona. Or wherever. Frankly, I don’t care where.
With another two-week rest in view, on to the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match was hard. First, because what happened Saturday night can only be termed a match under the loosest definition of that term. Second, because no one really stood out of what was a painfully mediocre performance despite the positives I tried to draw above. The top Audi Index point earner in the game was Julian Gressel, who racked up a measly 518 points, beating out Zack Steffen by a single point. Next was Brad Guzan with 495. It’s rare that you see both goalkeepers ranking so high. So I’m going to punt on making the decision myself, giving Man of the Match to Julian and Special Mention to Brad. Feel free to rake me over the coals for those, and for these:
GK: Brad Guzan – 6. Just one save in the game, and, in my opinion, it would have been bad if he had not saved Federico Higuain’s penalty kick. The conditions took away the low options for that kick, and the need to hoist the ball to get elevation telegraphed the entire attempt, giving Brad far more time to react than is usual.
LB: Mikey Ambrose – 3.5. Mikey had a bad night. He was positioned too far forward on the first goal, and later earned himself a yellow on one of the three fouls he committed in the game. 7 tackles and 3 clearances don’t really offset that.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 5. No yellow card for LGP, which has to be worth something. 2 interceptions and 3 clearances in the game, and he got forward in a pretty aggressive manner.
CB: Miles Robinson – 4. Miles had his first bad game this year. 2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 clearances and 1 block made for a fairly busy night, but the 2 fouls, including one for the penalty kick, rather overshadow that.
RB: Franco Escobar – 4. Played only 52 minutes before having to leave with the injury. Again. Completely lost track of Pedro Santos on the first goal, and how often can you hold both fullbacks to blame for a goal? 2 tackles, 2 interceptions.
LM: Darlington Nagbe – 4.5. 71.1% passing accuracy is way below standards for Darlington, even taking the conditions into account. He was, for the most part, a non-factor in the game. Also picked up a yellow for failing to retreat, a really stupid reason to get a card.
CM: Eric Remedi – 5. Somewhat better passing than Nagbe at 82.7%, but overall equally as invisible. But then, the field did not really allow for effective midfield play.
RM: Julian Gressel – 6. OK, so Julian was MOTM, but really all that means is that he didn’t screw up. He did handle the transition to right back well after Escobar left. 1 tackle, 1 interception, 3 clearances and 1 block.
LAM: Tito Villalba – 5. Tito played the full 90 for the first time since September 30 last year, when United visited the New York Red Bulls. And lost 2-0. In this game, he managed 2 shots, 1 on target.
RAM: Ezequiel Barco – 6. Barco’s attempt on goal soon after the restart was probably Atlanta’s best chance of the night. He had one other shot off target, and also managed an impressive 95.8% passing accuracy, by far the best in the game, but he did attempt only 24 passes. Pulled after 62 minutes.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 4. Not a single shot in the game. When did that last happen? September 30 last year, when United visited the New York Red Bulls. And lost 2-0. Hmm. Exited after 81 minutes.
SUB: Andrew Carleton – 5. Replaced Escobar, and flipped with Gressel. This was his 3rd regular season game this year, and he is beginning to show some degree of maturity.
SUB: Romario Williams – 5. Brought for Barco presumably to add some firepower, and actually managed 2 shots, with 1 on target.
SUB: Brek Shea – 4. A lateish appearance in place of Josef, and once again did very little with his time.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 5. A good game plan gone south. But why oh why did he not sub in Michael Phelps?
CREW FANS: – 10,973. Challenging Timbers fans for the craziest in MLS?