I feel sorry for Michael Parkhurst; he must be feeling very nervous right now. By filling in at left back on Sunday evening he has now played every position on the back line this season. But left back is where Atlanta United players go to die. It’s the Atlanta United equivalent of Spinal Tap drummers. Left backs are Atlanta United’s Jimmy Hoffas. On the inside collar of the Atlanta United left back’s shirt is embroidered “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
Yeah, Parky was probably surprised to wake up this morning.
So, when I saw that Sporting Kansas City had been hit by the injury bug (which seems to afflict all MLS teams in the CONCACAF Champions League, that early season tournament well-known for its fair play), I wasn’t about to shed a tear. We’ve had our share of injuries too. Besides, the only significant injury they had was the career-ender this guy took last week:
How Arya Stark avoided a red card and a multiple game suspension for that brutal challenge I’ll never know. Where’s video review when you need it?
Anyway, for the first 30 minutes or so, it looked like we were back to kicking the ball around aimlessly across the back line. In that first third of the game the 867-5309 Stripes managed just 3 shots, and only 1 on goal. SKC were doing much the same; feeling each other out was obviously the marching orders for both sides. Then…we must have entered a wormhole and gone back to 2018. The brash, creative, score-at-all-costs Atlanta United was suddenly back. With a vengeance. And why not: this match-up was supposed to be MLS Cup last year, wasn’t it?
Well, not like this it wasn’t. In 2 previous meetings Atlanta had managed just 1 goal and 1 point. The team tripled up on both of those in emphatic fashion. By the end of the game, the good guys had racked up 19 shots and 8 on goal, and created any number of other chances. Suspiciously, MLS and Opta have United’s xG for the game at just 1.60. They nearly doubled that on the scoresheet, but it sure felt like that there were several other good scoring chances.
Indeed, about the only thing that went wrong Sunday was that United did not get a fourth goal to jump the New York Red Bulls and get into 8th place in the Eastern Conference. Not too big a deal, that: on a points-per-game basis Atlanta is in 6th position, above the playoff line, and still has as many as 3 games in hand against every team in the conference except Toronto FC (whom they play Wednesday).
If it wasn’t for the current compressed schedule and missing Ezequiel Barco for up to a month, those games in hand would be a good thing. Also, squad rotation apparently means moving Parky wherever we need him, because depth-wise there ain’t many options. That’s MLS for you.
Back to the game: finally, we saw what Frank de Boer has been working towards. This was what the FC Dallas game two weeks ago was supposed to be. The pieces all fell into place, and United played probably their first complete game all year.
Still, there are areas to work on. 48% of the game was played in the middle third of the field, and only 24% in the home third. Which means that 28% was played in the away third. Since SKC were not exactly lighting it up offensively, that means there was still too much messing around in the back. However, if you take out that early part of the game, and also take out the last 20 minutes, I suspect that breakdown would look much more positive. In that final stretch, Atlanta had clearly gone into clean-up mode and even allowed SKC 73.2% possession. Despite that, Josef Martinez scored in the 76th minute.
The average player positions in the game also reflect that:
Perversely, SKC is peach and Atlanta is blue. That’s about as flat an average formation as I have ever seen from United. SKC weren’t exactly spread out, either.
Last week against Colorado, we saw Atlanta stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. We didn’t get as much of that this week, and we need more of it. Granted, we can’t play Colorado every week, but we still need to do that against stronger teams. Hopefully, with this result the team has developed the confidence to do that going forward.
Man, it’s nice to feel good about a result, isn;t it? Here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
For the last time in (please let it not be too long) a while, Ezequiel Barco gets the Man of the Match award. Since he’ll be gone, that almost certainly means Miles Robinson will get a good string of MOTM honors going. Special Mention goes to Josef Martinez, because putting 2 past Tim Melia is always good.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. another week with not too much to do. SKC didn’t get a shot on frame until the 66th minute, and of the 3 they eventually managed only Johnny Russell’s long-range blast in the 73rd minute was enough to require a real save. And a great finger-tip save it was.
LB: Michael Parkhurst – 6. So Parky hasn’t played LB in 7 years. I guess it showed. Not an particularly good evening for him. 1 tackle, 1 interceptions, 2 clearances. Offensively, not much: just 37 passes for 89.2% accuracy.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 7. Just 1 tackle and 1 interception. Which explains the lack of a yellow card. Totally untested, and probably because SKC were trying to force play on the left...
CB: Miles Robinson – 8. 2 tackles, 1 interception, 7 clearances and 2 blocks. The knock he took to the head doesn’t count as an official interception, but it should. He also had 2 shots, both off target.
RB: Franco Escobar – 6. 3 tackles, 2 interceptions and 2 clearances. Of 26 defensive plays, 19 were on Atlanta’s right. Someone’s scouting report was way off, wasn’t it? On offense, even less productive than Parky: 35 passes for 74.3% accuracy. If your fullbacks aren’t putting up numbers, you haven’t stretched the field wide. (Atlanta United also had just 7 crosses in this game, its lowest production all season).
LM: Darlington Nagbe – 7. Darlington provided the key pass to Barco that resulted in the first goal, but other than that he had a rather ordinary game. Just 70 passes total with 94.3% accuracy, and he barely got out of midfield. This is getting to be a pattern...
CM: Pity Martinez – 7. Just 71 minutes, but definitely an improvement. He took 5 shots, all from outside the 18 and all off target, and his passing, while still not great (58 for 86.2%), is getting better.
RM: Eric Remedi– 6.5. Eric got the only card of the game, but otherwise did well in his first start since the concussion. Wisely taken out after 71 minutes.
LAM: Ezequiel Barco – 9. 6 shots, 3 on goal, 1 in goal, 1 assist and 1 sort of assist...quick breath...5 key passes, 4 successful dribbles, fouled 3 times (most in the game)...another breath...Audi Index score of 1,461 to lead all players in the league...get me oxygen, stat!...takes the MLS Player of the Week title for the second time in less than a month.
RAM: Julian Gressel – 7. Not a standout game for Julian, who was rather overshadowed by his partner to the left. 1 extreme long-range shot off target, and only 31 passes for 61.3% accuracy. However, he was rather let down by Tito Villalba late, and gets extra credit for that.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. Josef doing Josef stuff again. We’ve missed that. He put his body on the line as he has done so many times before, and on top of that, was a good distributor of the ball. Also got back for some good defending. Pulled after 81 minutes of excellent work.
SUB: Tito Villalba – 7. Oh, Tito. You buzzed around the field for 19 official minutes doing your supersub thing, and then blew it on a golden chance to free Julian up for a score.
SUB: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. Came on in the double switch with Tito, and did some excellent work standing in the way of SKC attackers.
SUB: Brek Shea – 6. As regards Atlanta’s ongoing problems at left back, Brek Shea is a square peg in a round hole. All he did was pass the ball 4 times. All of them in the defensive half. He connected twice.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 7. Every week the team and the coach are getting closer mentally. We may finally have the meeting of the minds we need.
SUITS: – 0-1. FdB gets the win over Peter Vermes on this one too. European style v. Midwestern conservatism takes it every time.