Atlanta United escaped with a 3-1 win at home in a game against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday. The game really had everything - an early lead that was erased by an own goal, Chris Penso reviving the spirit of Mark Geiger, Atlanta failing to score or even shoot the ball for nearly an hour after being up a man, half of the San Jose bench being ejected, Emerson Hyndman redeeming his missed sitter by finding the game winner, and the heart stopping injury to Josef Martinez. Luckily, it seems like Josef’s injury isn’t gravely serious, but he will be missed. The result was a win even if it was against one of these teams:
MLS's hapless playoff contenders: the seven teams around the two playoff lines have one win in their last 21 games. https://t.co/Xn3O95S0Ca pic.twitter.com/zCFKY3kjvG— Paul Kennedy (@pkedit) September 23, 2019
Replacing Josef will be a puzzle though. Is Tito healthy enough to start? What about Brandon Vazquez? Should Pity or Julian Gressel be put out of position? What is Josh Donaldson doing? Atlanta is four points behind New York with three games to play, a win puts first in the East back within reach, a draw makes that more difficult, and a loss makes it virtually impossible.
Making The Tarps happen
Since my articles are so important and you’ve no doubt committed them to memory now, you must remember the last time NYCFC played against Atlanta United. I made fun of NYCFC for embarrassing the league by playing at a baseball stadium and this being the result of the threat of bad weather at one point this season:
I'll take things you never want to see at a soccer game for $100 Alex #NYCFC #NYCvHOU pic.twitter.com/di7qQVsuqr— Dylan Butler (@Dylan_Butler) August 8, 2019
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, I don’t know that I can stand the MLS regular season being extended any further than it needs to be.
In the month and a half between the last times these teams played, Atlanta United has basically kept up in the East. The lead given away and turned into a loss against Philly basically made New York the de-facto conference champs. The match against the Crew gave United a chance to make some progress up the table, but the team’s inability to force a Porter like this one also put a damper on that:
FREDY FRICKIN' MONTERO!— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) September 21, 2019
VAN 1-1 CLB | #VWFC pic.twitter.com/t41lDUFI7t
Somehow, since losing in MLS doesn’t matter anymore unless you’re Orlando, a win in Yankee Stadium will throw some doubt on that piece of destiny. While Atlanta won the last meeting in New York, thanks to playoff hero Eric Remedi, this time won’t be as easy. NYCFC hasn’t lost since they last played Atlanta and the team has steadily climbed the table as they capitalized on their games in hand down the stretch.
That said, New York will share something in common with Atlanta in the match - their top scorer is also injured. Heber was sidelined at the beginning of September with speculation that he’d miss between 2 weeks and the rest of the season. He hasn’t made an 18 yet, so it’s doubtful that if he is healthy that he would start the match. That’s good news for Atlanta because NYCFC has also gotten a spark from American midfielder Keaton Parks who scored his first MLS goal two weeks ago against San Jose. The key to the New York attack will be Maxi Moralez with Heber out. Eric Remedi marked him out of the game in the Bronx last year, but with Frank de Boer deciding that a player capable of such defensive mastery running the attack, it doesn’t seem like that will be the gameplan tomorrow.
Take me out to the BAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL GAAAAMMMEEEEEEE
There’s a lot not to like about this match. It’s midweek, in New York, in a baseball stadium, with the team’s best player out. The game against San Jose did show the team can scrape together a win without Josef though, but it will be time for others to step up. First is Darlington Nagbe, a player who is overlooked because he doesn’t go for much power but always seems to be on base, moving runners over, or in the middle of setting up a big inning. He’s mastered the art of making his balls look like strikes and his strikes look like balls and is capable of putting a team to sleep with his smooth delivery.
Then there’s the new slugger Atlanta brought it. Pity Martinez hasn’t quite delivered on replacing Miguel Almiron and is having trouble adjusting to the new league. He’s capable of hitting the long ball, but more often than not just has warning track power while his average hovers around the Mendoza line. Then there’s the aforementioned Eric Remedi. In the last game, Atlanta struggled to make contact with the ball despite chasing the Quakes starter early. That began changing once FdB pinch hit for Remedi. Even with perennial AAAA player Brandon Vazquez hitting cleanup, Atlanta came alive when he and Tito came in and Emmerson Hyndman’s late homer was the difference.
In short, this is a game where Atlanta’s depth is going to have to come up big especially since Ezequiel Barco is still not ready to come back:
Barco likely won’t play Wednesday vs. NYCFC. The team is trying to get him ready for Montreal. #ATLUTD— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) September 23, 2019
However, there is always opportunity when a crisis emerges and a chance for players who haven’t seen starting minutes can show they have something to offer. Plus, Yankee Stadium is a place where the ball winds up in strange places and Atlanta managed to win thanks to that the last time they visited the Tarps.
Just in time for the playoffs.... again!
What happened to the Cubs exactly?