Rumor has it that Darren Eales has approached Orlando City with an offer. His trophy cabinet is full, so he needs a new one and theirs is sitting around empty.
2 cups in 13 days. 3 cups in 263 days. Not a bad haul, that.
Getting that third one turned out to be rather more of a struggle than it might have been. Setting aside two Josef Martinez strikes called back for offside, refereeing that was clearly not in Atlanta’s favor, and one less day of rest, the home team was far less dominant than it might have been.
It didn’t start out that way, of course. Adrian Heath generously decided to leave Ethan Finlay and Darwin Quintero on the bench. Quintero is notoriously poor at defense, which may have factored into the decision. However, Minnesota United is notoriously poor at offense without him. And it didn’t seem like the defense was much improved without him either; that first called-off goal was barely a minute in, defender Chase Gaspar gifted Atlanta a goal, and the 1914 Stripes had a 2-0 lead just 16 minutes in.
By half-time, despite being outshot 6-5, Atlanta looked dominant. None of Minny’s shots had been on target, and Atlanta had controlled 57.6% of the possession. Everything looked just peachy.
And then, 63 seconds into the second half, Robin Lod took advantage of the fact that the United defense were evidently still digesting their half time orange slices. That woke Atlanta up rather rudely, and for the first 30 minutes of the half, the team controlled 56.4% possession, and matched Minnesota with 4 shots each, plus the second called-off strike.
And then Leandro Gonzalez Pirez happened. Having played magnificently in the first half, he decided to completely lose it over the course of just 3 minutes. Granted, the refereeing had been poor, to say the least, but his yellow card for dissent after being called for a foul in which he was manifestly the victim and not the culprit was dumb, and his actual yellow card foul just minutes later was utterly brainless.
That created a wild final 15 minutes plus stoppage time. His ejection forced Frank de Boer to yank Pity Martinez, who had arguably been Atlanta’s best player to that point, in favor of Franco Escobar, to shore up the defense despite the latter not having played in over 2 weeks due to injury. And that following the similarly forced substitution of Ezequiel Barco just a few minutes earlier.
LGP’s exit was hard on the heels of Finlay’s entrance into the game, and Quintero’s followed immediately afterwards. That led to a wild finish. Minnesota controlled 81.5% possession from that point, and attempted 9 shots, although only 2 were on target. Atlanta did not attempt a single shot and ended the game outshot by a hefty 19-9 margin. It became a game of survival, and Atlanta just barely eked out the win.
Not that they haven’t had experience doing that against Minnesota. In its entire history, Atlanta has incurred 11 red cards. 3 of them have been against Minnesota. And 2 of those have been double yellows on LGP. He clearly does not like playing them. Atlanta now has a 2-1-0 record against Minny playing down a man, and even in the loss, Atlanta was leading 21 seconds shy of second half stoppage time playing with a 4th choice goalkeeper. And we’ve only played them 5 times.
Anyway, Atlanta can now approach the rest of the MLS season with one less concern, namely qualification for the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League. Technically, Atlanta could win 2 of the 3 remaining US spots in CCL (which go to the MLS Cup winner and the 2 conference champions). Given the change in MLS’ playoff format, winning the conference has become even more important than before and that has to remain on Atlanta’s checklist of accomplishments for the season. Obviously, so does repeating as champions.
So, we have thrown lesser teams a bone with regard to CCL. For now, though, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is Miles Robinson, yet again. Is he in the running for MLS defender of the year? If not, he freaking should be. Special Mentions go to Pity Martinez for continued improvements in his play, to Florentin Pogba for being equally as stout in defense as Miles, and to Justin Meram for working his butt off.
GK: Brad Guzan – 8. Untested in the first half, and unable to do anything to stop Robin Lod’s goal early in the second, Brad logged 3 saves in the final 22 minutes to preserve the win.
CB: Florentin Pogba – 8. 3 tackles, 4 interceptions, 6 clearances, 1 block and 8 recoveries. A very good evening, although he also committed 4 fouls. He spent 10 years not winning anything. He now has 2 trophies in the past month. He must love Atlanta.
CB: Miles Robinson – 9. 1 tackle, 5 interceptions, 6 clearances and 6 recoveries. All of the clearances were from inside the penalty area. Also on Tuesday he got the call-up to the USMNT, which is thoroughly deserved.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 5. If I were rating just on the first half, this could easily be a 9. His defensive stats don’t really show it (just 3 blocks and 5 recoveries in the game), but he was masterful on the ball, and of course, his cross created the first goal. But he has to get control of his emotions. Either that, or he needs aversion therapy for the color yellow.
LWB: Justin Meram – 8. Unfortunately a step or two offside on the assist to Josef early in the second half, but he also provided the assist on Pity’s goal, from virtually the same position. Other than that, he pumped balls into the box repeatedly.
LM Eric Remedi – 7. Took a beating; he was fouled 4 times in the game. 90.9% accuracy on 44 passes. Those are Nagbe-like numbers. Also had a clearance in stoppage time to help secure the victory.
RM: Darlington Nagbe – 8. Darlington also had 2 clearances in stoppage time. Just 33 passes in the game (all of them before the red card) for 97% accuracy.
RWB: Julian Gressel – 6. Julian clearly needs the two-week rest that’s coming up after Saturday’s game in Philadelphia. He was showing fatigue in Orlando last Friday and it was even more on display Tuesday. Josef Martinez was on several occasions evidently annoyed that his primary service provider was way behind the play. He attempted 44 passes with only 56.8% accuracy. Subbed out after 85 minutes.
LAM: Ezequiel Barco – 7. Played 70 minutes before being subbed out with an injury that will keep him out of the Philly game. Suffered the usual hackery with 4 fouls incurred. 43 passes with 74.4% completion. 2 shots, both on target.
RAM: Pity Martinez – 8. Pity was making stuff happen all game till he was forced out. A beautiful goal, and provided the feed to LGP for the first goal. Just 58.8% passing accuracy on 34 passes, although 3 of the misses were long corners. 3 shots, 2 on target.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 7. Finally had a game without scoring, although it wasn’t for lack of trying. Technically, just 1 shot on target, but there were the two called-off goals and numerous other chances.
SUB: Emerson Hyndman – 6. Came on just a few minutes before the red, so his offensive duties were negated. Just 1 incomplete pass all game.
SUB: Franco Escobar – 7. Good to see him back on the field. Replaced Pity in emergency duty, and had 1 incomplete pass, although it was really just a boot upfield seconds before the whistle blew. 2 blocks, both inside the 18, and 1 interception. In other words, he did exactly what was needed.
SUB: Jeff Larentowicz – 6. Came on for Julian Gressel to see the game out. 2 passes, 1 complete and 1 an effective clearance upfield. 1 clearance in stoppage time. A veteran doing a veteran’s job.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 8. Was it a risk fielding an entirely unchanged lineup after the exhaustion in Orlando? Maybe, but until he was forced out of his game plan it was working pretty well. Made the right adjustments to win the game.
IN-STADIUM TROLLING – 10. Silent Viking clap. Champagne Supernova. Nice work, everyone.