Sometimes, things just don’t go your way. Saturday was one of those days. Everything went according to plan. Except, of course, the scoreline.
The statistics almost defy belief. Atlanta United had 71.2% possession, ceding the advantage in not a single 5-minute stretch. They had 81% of the total successful passes in the game, with 86% accuracy compared to FC Dallas’ 69%. Of those passes, 64% were in the attacking half and 33% in the final third. Atlanta racked up 22 shots, 8 on target. 10 of those shots were from inside the penalty area.
Check the heatmap:
The game was played pretty much in Dallas’ half.
Let’s add to that the 36 clearances FC Dallas was forced to make. That’s a huge number. Of those, 29 were inside the 18. Again, a huge number. And of those, 7 were inside the 6.
Lastly, for the data junkies among you, Atlanta’s xG for the game was 2.6 (it was 2.5 against New England last week).
And yet, with all that, the I-am-not-a-number-I-am-a-free-man Stripes didn’t score until the 97th minute. And that from the penalty spot.
Frankly, no one is to blame for that failure. Well, unless you count Jesse Gonzalez stopping all 7 open play shots on target. Which is, after all, what he is paid to do (and time-wasting; he probably gets a bonus for that). Certainly not Frank de Boer, whose game plan, formation and starting XI all looked very good. And on any other day, this would have resulted in an old-fashioned beat-down. But sometimes the ball just stubbornly refuses to go into the net. Saturday was one of those days, which have been relatively rare in Atlanta United history to date.
That’s the offensive side of this game. The defensive side doesn’t look quite so good. Allowing 2 goals to a team that managed just 28.8% possession verges on criminal negligence. Both goals came down to boneheaded errors.
On the first goal by Jesus Ferreira, the error was to allow the assist by Michael Barrios. Two errors in fact: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is behind Barrios when he collects the ball in his own half and well-positioned to make the tackle. But rather than staying upright and challenging that way, he opts for a rather reckless slide tackle and completely misses, leaving Barrios free to turn and move upfield. At the same time, Brek Shea is well to Dallas’ goal side of Barrios, as Atlanta had been in a promising attack. He sees the distribution from Bressan to Barrios, and starts to sprint back to defend, However, he slows to a jog when he sees LGP challenging and only sprints again when Barrios makes his move. Finally, he catches up but makes a very weak attempt to block the assist. Here’s the video:
Bryan Acosta’s goal was a masterpiece in opportunism, but relied on another error by LGP. When Edwin Cerillo makes the long through-ball to Barrios, LGP is at least 12 yards goal side of Acosta, but somehow loses track of him despite there being no other attacker in the half. This allows Barrios to blow by him to make the score. The video:
Guess who’s not getting a good rating below.
Still, progress is being made, and we still don’t have a fully fit team. Echoes of what happened to Toronto FC last year? Man, I hope not.
Back to the shots again for a bit: last week I talked about how Atlanta’s shot generation is improving, Well, it clearly continued to do so this week. Over two and a bit seasons, United has only bettered 22 shots twice, and equaled that tally 4 times. So, pretty good then right? Well, you might think so. For sure you can’t score if you don’t shoot, and if you can’t generate quality chances, quantity has a quality of its own, doesn’t it? Perhaps, but in those 7 games Atlanta is 3-3-1. Not overly impressive. Worse, if you take out two games in which Atlanta had a 2-man advantage for some part of the game, the record drops to 1-3-1.
Saturday, 10 of the 22 shots were from inside the penalty area. That’s 45%, down from 68% against New England. That makes the 22 shots look not quite so good. Worse, in both the last two games Atlanta has taken precisely zero shots from inside the goal area. That’s a change from last year’s ruthless penetration, and needs to improve.
So, lots of shots is good, but only if they are from close range, and the closer the better. What you want, then, is not quantity as quality but quantity of quality.
Food for thought. And with that, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is Ezequiel Barco, who is becoming the hardest working man in show business. Special Mentions awarded to Josef Martinez, who finally broke his scoring drought, and to Michael Parkhurst, whose numbers don’t really show it but he put in a very creditable effort as the right fullback.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. Brad could do absolutely nothing about the two goals, but still managed 4 saves despite the general lack of attack from Dallas.
LB: Brek Shea – 4. Another less than stellar game from Shea, who is clearly demonstrating why he moved around. No tackles, no interceptions, no clearances and no blocks.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 3.5. OK, he had 4 tackles, 2 interceptions and 4 clearances. He still managed to stink the joint up. And got an early yellow card, bringing his total so far to 3 in 6 games.
CB: Miles Robinson – 7. The question now is not whether Miles is good enough, it is who of the 3 centerbacks sits when Franco Escobar is fully healthy? Parky or LGP? 1 tackle, 2 interceptions and 4 clearances, and he looked dominant and confident doing it.
RB: Michael Parkhurst – 7. Parky has played right back before, but he is past his prime and not really up to it. Or so we thought. Saturday he was aggressive going forward and looked completely at ease. Defensively not so active: 2 tackles and 1 interception. That’s hardly surpring though, given that FCD tried absolutely nothing on that flank (see the heatmap above). They obviously had pegged Shea as the weak link.
LM: Darlington Nagbe – 7. A pretty typical game from Darlington, who tallied 73 passes with 93.2% accuracy. He confined his play largely to the middle third of the field, though, and both his attempted shots were from extreme distance.
CM: Ezequiel Barco – 8. No wonder goals this week, but 5 shots with 2 on target (all long range). His Audi Index score of 1024 was by far the best in the game (Josef was second at 604), and he has quickly become the funnel through which Atlanta’s offense must pass.
RM: Jeff Larentowicz – 5.5. Gets docked for the yellow card (he is tied with LGP on that front). His passing stats were 68 for 95.6% accuracy, and more or less mirrored Nagbe’s in placement.
LAM: Tito Villalba – 6. Tito’s starts will likely come to an end as soon as Pity Martinez is judged fully fit. This game won’t help him keep the starting slot. 4 shots, all off target. Pulled after 65 minutes.
RAM: Julian Gressel – 6. Julian gets credit for 2 shots on target, and his third off target was painfully close. However, his distribution lacked its usual crispness: of 11 attempted crosses, only 3 found their target. Exited in the 80th minute.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 7. 5 shots, 3 on target, including the PK. The misses were shots he would normally put away. Not this game, alas. Also pretty effective hanging back and feeding balls, which he is doing on an increasing basis.
SUB: Pity Martinez – 6. Played 25 official minutes, and showed some glimpses of what he could be doing if he was completely in game shape. He needs to get there in a hurry.
SUB: Dion Pereira – 6. Came on for Gressel in his MLS debut and really didn’t do very much.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 7. Put his team into a position to get the job done. They didn’t.
PARLEY KITS: – 0. I don’t get it: how exactly is making a ton of unnecessary extra uniforms and merchandise environmentally conscious? And forcing a team to wear the same color as NYCFC should be banned under any circumstances.