This one was fun. Maybe not as much fun as if Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been there, not to mention Efrain Alvarez and Diego Polenta, but fun nonetheless. And then it got even more fun when Dave Romney decided that missing 3 stars wasn’t enough of a handicap. And when Giancarlo Gonzalez decided that still wasn’t enough, the party was well and truly on.
The game was full of weird stats. The first was that the double own-goal game was the fourth this season. Which happens also to be the total number of double own-goal games in all previous MLS seasons combined. So was this a double double then?
Then of course there is the new single-game attendance record. On top of that, Atlanta United’s season average now tops the 2018 average, with one full stadium game left (September 14th against the Columbus Crew).
Next, Josef Martinez hit a 9-game scoring streak, matching the record previously set by two other players, one of whom coincidentally is also named Josef Martinez. He also tied Bradley Wright-Phillips’ record for most goals scored over a 3-season stretch at 68. He’s done that over 75 appearances and is scoring at a rate of a goal every 92.6 minutes. BWP needed 100 games to reach that number. And Josef has 10 games left this season.
In the game as a whole, there was a lot of glory to spread around. This was the most solid team performance we have seen this year. Defense, midfield and offense were all very much in sync. It helped of course that Ezequiel Barco was back for his first start in 3 months and that Pity Martinez looked to have finally figured things out. And even missing Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, the defense allowed LA very few real attacking threats after a couple of early scares.
This game was played yet again out of the 3-5-2, although it operated more as a 3-4-3:
The 2221 Stripes are on the left. The Galaxy were theoretically playing in a 4-3-3, but this looks more like a 3-5-2. That tends to suggest either a tactical adjustment, or a lack of proper organization. Give how well Atlanta dominated game, the latter seems the more likely.
United also peppered David Bingham’s goal with shots. Better, of the total 20 shots taken, 14 were from inside the penalty area. And that doesn’t take into account all the other chances created (including, of course, the 2 own goals). The team finished with a very creditable 2.73 xG.
With the win, Atlanta moved temporarily into its rightful place at the top of the Eastern Conference, until the Philadelphia Union hammered DC United 5-1 on Sunday, probably the worst of all possible results for Atlanta. They still have a game in hand over the Union, though, and will play them at Talen Energy Stadium on August 31st. United also hold the tiebreaker lead (tied on wins but a 3-goal GD edge), despite the Union amassing 5 goals.
We now move on to a critical week. First, there is tonight’s US Open Cup semi-final at the timeshare condos in Orlando, and then a home league game against New York City FC on Sunday. NYCFC are steadily climbing the standings, trailing Atlanta by 4 points but having played 3 fewer games (at just 21 games, they have played the fewest games of any team in the league). They play the struggling Houston Dynamo on the postage stamp in Brooklyn this Thursday, so could be just a point behind.
It’s all still to play for, but for now here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match was of course me, for my brilliant half time trivia contest performance. Special Mention to DSS’ own Kyle Kessler, who guessed the question ahead of time and looked up the answer. Heh. We can only dream. MOTM was clearly Miles Robinson, for basically destroying whichever forward chose to take him on. Special Mentions go to Florentin Pogba for doing more or less the same thing and to Pity Martinez for literally running circles around the LA defense.
GK: Brad Guzan – 8. 4 saves in the game, including a key early foot save on Uriel Antuna. Brad now has 11 clean sheets on the season, all of them wins. His personal best is 13 (with Chivas USA in 2007), of which 11 were also wins. The league record for clean sheets is 16 by Tony Meola with Kansas City in 2000 (the first season after the shootout era). KC totaled 17 shutouts that year in a 32-game season. The record for shutout wins is 14, set by the New York Red Bulls’ Luis Robles last year.
CB: Florentin Pogba – 8. 2 tackles, 1 interception, 1 clearance, 2 blocks and 9 recoveries. He looked extremely confident and generally in control. His passing was also strong: 79 attempts with 83.5% accuracy.
CB: Miles Robinson – 9. 2019 is without question Miles’ season. Playing without LGP to his left he was completely unfazed and outraced the Galaxy attackers at every threat. 1 tackle, 2 interceptions, 2 clearances and 12 recoveries. Passing was not too shabby either at 94.6% accuracy on 55 tries.
RB: Franco Escobar – 7. Played the most advanced of the back line, even getting a shot on target. Got in 4 tackles, 1 clearance and 6 recoveries, as the Galaxy focused their attack up the middle.
LWB: Justin Meram – 8. Another player working wonders for his career at Atlanta. 51 passes for 86.3% accuracy, and 1 shot on target. Perfect counterpoint to Gressel on the opposite wing.
LM: Ezequiel Barco – 8. Played 62 minutes in a much needed start. He showed no signs of injury, although the Galaxy tried several times to inflict new ones. Buzzed around creating problems, and generated 4 shots, one on target and 1 other hitting the crossbar. 30 passes for 80% completion.
CM: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. With Larry playing in front of Miles and Pogba it’s no wonder the Galaxy couldn’t get to goal. They couldn’t even see it. 3 tackles, 1 off-target shot and 88.5% accuracy on 61 passes.
RM: Darlington Nagbe – 8. Played 73 minutes and was very much himself, bossing the midfield. 1 wayward shot and 44 passes for 93.2% accuracy.
RWB: Julian Gressel – 7. Just 30 passes in 80 minutes, and a 76.7% completion rate, but 8 of those passes were into the box. 1 shot off target. But wide right is where he belongs.
FWD: Pity Martinez – 8. Pity has played just 6 full games this season, and with good reason. With equally good reason, he saw this one out. He forced the error on the first goal, and generally embarrassed Galaxy defenders otherwise. 5 shots with 1 on target and 75.5% accuracy on 49 passes.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. Still scoring. 6 shots, with 3 on target. And numerous other chances too.
SUB: Emerson Hyndman – 7. Replaced Barco, but is a very different player. He stayed much wider, but helped see the game out effectively. No shots, but 92.9% completion on 14 passes.
SUB: Eric Remedi – 6. Gave Darlington a well-earned rest, but was not really called on to do much.
SUB: Dion Pereira – 6. Ditto for Gressel, and also didn’t have any great impact on the game.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 8. Does he have the team completely sold on the 3-5-2 now? Sure seems that way, because it looks to be working well.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING – -10. Hint: don’t organize a “protest” for a day when the team a) breaks the MLS attendance record, b) moves into first place and c) plays possibly its best game of the year.