As previously noted, the Houston Dynamo are a miserable road team. So miserable, in fact, that Alberth Elis decided pretty quickly that if Marlon Hairston wasn’t going to try to play soccer, then neither would he. So he had a quick discussion with referee Chris Penso, who clearly understood his frustration and sent him home, even giving him a farewell card as he left. Nice to see the social graces are not entirely dead.
Thus, we had 6 minutes of pretty entertaining soccer at both ends of the field, followed by 84 minutes of shooting practice. Josef Martinez almost broke the game wide open just 13 seconds in, followed up 62 seconds later by what ended up as Houston’s only shot on target all game, although it wasn’t exactly a tough save. Then Hairston flubbed a golden chance on goal, and shortly thereafter things blew up entirely.
The game plan had been to resurrect the 3-5-2 we saw early this season, largely out of necessity, left fullbacks having become an endangered species, and the first choice right fullback being absent due to his second bout this year with the nasty disease known as yellow card accumulation (for which the only known cure is a week’s rest).
The red card consigned that plan to the trashcan, and the 410 Stripes decided a party was in order instead. They had such a good time that Josef spent most of the evening grinning. Coach Frank de Boer even got in on the fun, trolling the hapless opponent by subbing in a player who had been with the team mere hours.
The statistics are of course ridiculous. Atlanta racked up 70.4% possession, making a massive 91% of 651 passes, of which 71% were in the attacking half and 39% in the final third. The team took 23 shots with 8 on goal (Houston managed 5 total shots). 40% of the game was played in Atlanta’s attacking third, and only 15% in its defensive third.
Atlanta’s defense was under no pressure at all, obviously. The three centerbacks (Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Miles Robinson and Michael Parkhurst) totaled 7 defensive actions all game (tackles, interceptions, clearances and blocks. Adding in the two wingbacks (Julian Gressel and Dion Pereira) brings the total to 11. Not what you’d call a busy evening.
And, just for giggles, here’s the heatmap:
That graphic is so one-sided the 1-man advantage hardly accounts for it. And ultimately, Atlanta overperformed. The team’s xG for the night was a surprisingly low 3.37. Houston’s was just 0.23. Unsurprisingly.
It could have been worse, too. Tyler Deric managed 3 saves (including that early Josef chance). And it could have been worse yet, as that same Deric flirted with a card, barreling into Josef’s back on his headed goal.
The game could not have come at a better time. The team clearly needed a confidence booster after several poor performances, and also needed a rest given the crammed schedule. Especially so since D.C. United are coming to town on Sunday. At a minimum, second place in the Eastern Conference is on the line. DC leads Atlanta by 2 points, but from one more game. Moreover, if the Philadelphia Union lose to the Chicago Fire, then the winner takes first place. That game is on Saturday, so the possibility will be known before kickoff. The Union have taken just 5 points from the last 5 games (1 against New England and 4 from Orlando in back-to-back games), so this is not a completely unlikely scenario. They got shellacked by Real Salt Lake 4-0 last Saturday.
A big weekend coming up, then, but for now here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match honors go to Julian Gressel, who had easily his best game all season, and gave notice to FdB that he really needs to be playing out wide. Special Mentions to Josef Martinez for the 2-bagger and also to Emerson Hyndman for being generally impressive.
Man of the Match honors go to Julian Gressel, who had probably his best game all season, and gave notice to FdB that he really needs to be playing out wide. Special Mention to Josef Martinez for the two-bagger and also to Emerson Hyndman for being generally impressive.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. Just the one save, and that was an early and utterly routine stop from Tommy McNamara. A relaxing evening all told.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 7. 1 tackle, 1 interception, 1 clearance. Get this though: 111 passes for 91% accuracy. Also got a shot in but missed the goal. But he loses 3 points for shaving.
CB: Miles Robinson – 7. Just 1 block all night. 69 passes, 95.7% on target.
RB: Michael Parkhurst – 7. 2 interceptions and 1 clearance. Busy boy. Also had a shot off target. But blew it on the passing with 67 passes and 94% accuracy.
LWB: Dion Pereira – 7. (Yes, I know this is getting predictable) 3 interceptions and 1 clearance, meaning he as almost as hard pressed as the entire back line. Oddly low passing stats: only 36 passes with 86.1% connecting. 1 shot on target.
LM: Emerson Hyndman – 8. 1 off-target shot and 39 passes for 84.6% accuracy. And a hockey assist. But he only played 64 minutes; not bad production really. Looks increasingly comfortable in Atlanta colors.
CM: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. 2 shots, wildly off target as usual. But he racked up his 410th MLS appearance, passing Chad Marshall for 2nd place among field players (after Kyle Beckerman).
RM: Darlington Nagbe – 8. It was a long time coming, but he finally got his first Atlanta goal. Moreover, that was his first goal since August 23, 2017, almost two years ago. He scored that one against the Colorado Rapids. So both that one and this one against a short-handed team don’t count. Sorry Darlington. Given a rest after 77 minutes.
RWB: Julian Gressel – 8. 73 passes, 90.4% accuracy. And a boatload of other service that didn’t connect, but should have. And let’s not forget 2 assists and a goal, even though it was gifted to him by an unbelievably lazy clearance by Aljaz Struna (who was involved in at least 3 of Atlanta’s goals, as well as Josef’s early chance).
FWD: Brandon Vazquez – 8. A very well-played header for the goal. 4 shots in total, of which 2 were on target. Given a break after 74 minutes.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. Another multi-goal game, his fourth in five games (if he had scored a second against Seattle he would have set a new record for most consecutive multi-goal games). Josef definitely has his mojo back, and is now closing in on Carlos Vela in the Golden Boot race. He has now also scored against every MLS team.
SUB: Eric Remedi – 7. Played 26 official minutes. Eric had no defensive responsibilities to speak of and managed 33 passes for 97% accuracy in short time.
SUB: Pity Martinez – 6. Replaced Brandon Vazquez. Didn’t get any shots in, and had just 12 passes for 75% accuracy, but the game was effectively long over before he entered.
SUB: Mo Adams – 7. Heck, why not? Give the new guy some time on the field when it clearly can’t hurt. 20 passes for 95% accuracy. That’s not bad at alal for a guy who had just barely got off the plane from O’Hare.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 7. I’m sure his game plan was absolutely brilliant, but alas we’ll never know.
HOUSTON DEFENSE – 0. I’d give them a better rating, but they apparently don’t exist…