Well, at long last Atlanta is actually getting a break. Except, of course, nearly every club in the world is also getting one.
By way of explanation for this loss, consider the following table:
The games column includes all official competitions: MLS itself, the CONCACAF Champions League, the Leagues Cup, the US Open Cup and the Campeones Cup. It ignores any friendlies teams may have played. The Total Days column indicates how many days there are between the team’s first and most recent games. The last column shows how spread out those games have been.
Atlanta United is the victim of its own success. The only competition it was not involved in was the Leagues Cup (and after qualifying for the 2020 CCL it will also not compete in it next season). The team has played 3 more games than any other MLS team, and has had half a day’s less rest on average than any other team. That, to say the least, is a busy schedule.
Even so, Atlanta’s 2 losses since mid-July were against Los Angeles FC and the Philadelphia Union. Both of whom are conference leaders. Both games were on the road. Both teams have averaged about a day’s extra rest than Atlanta. Both teams have played far fewer games than Atlanta.
Add in one more factor to both games: Ezequiel Barco played just 31 minutes against LAFC and didn’t play against Philadelphia.
And let’s not forget that the US Open Cup final on Tuesday finished with a desperate 15-minute 10-man defensive effort. The results then can hardly be categorized as a surprise.
And yet, in both games Atlanta took the early lead. Against LAFC, other than a nightmarish 15 minutes or so, Atlanta were arguably the better team. Against Philadelphia, that early lead stood up until the 61st minute, and didn’t turn to a deficit until the 86th. In his post-game broadcast interview Frank de Boer said he was proud of his team.
He was right to be. Despite the fatigue that obviously overcame the team in the second half, the 38 Stripes still outpossessed, outpassed and outshot Philadelphia. The possession advantage was marked: for the first half, Atlanta had 62.3% possession, and by the 65th minute it was still 59.3%.
Atlanta played this game exactly the same way they have played every game the past month: a pressure-absorbing, fast counter-attacking style. For the most part, it worked. Despite the tired legs and 3 changes to the lineup, for a good two-thirds of this game the team was indistinguishable from what we have become used to seeing.
Really, not that bad at all. And then...there was that goal.
The goal in first half stoppage time makes up for the loss, in my humble opinion. It’s up for Goal of the Week. Golazos tend tend to win Goal of the Year, but this one should be in with a shot. It was also listed as #2 in the Top Ten Plays of the Week. Note also that in the latter the other 9 plays are all credited to individual players; this one is simply credited to Atlanta United.
As it rightly should be. The Josef-Pity-Josef-Darlington-Josef interchange was team play taken to extremes, and it was beautiful to watch.
Even so, the loss hurts. With New York City FC shockingly beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1, Atlanta dropped to 3rd in the conference. There’s a hill to climb now, but’s not as steep as it might be.
First, despite the crazy schedule, Atlanta still has a game in hand over Philadelphia and also has the tie-break advantage. Second, NYCFC has a game in hand over Atlanta, but that will get used up when they host the New England Revolution this Saturday. The Revs, who have admittedly struggled a bit of late, are fighting for first-round home field advantage in the playoffs and should be motivated. And let’s not forget the massive NYCFC-ATLUTD 6-pointer coming up on the 25th. Lastly, the Pigeons have been without defender James Sands the past couple of games already, and are now without striker Héber, probably for the next month. That’s the rest of the regular season. With 14 goals, he is their leading scorer by a wide margin and a big loss.
With all of that to chew on, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is Josef Martinez, not just for scoring an incredible goal, but laying his body on the line. As usual. Special Mentions to Pity Martinez and Darlington Nagbe, and I think you know why.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. 3 goals allowed, but also 3 saves. Now he’s off to USMNT camp, and hopefully he’ll ride the bench for both games.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 6.5. 3 tackles, 3 interceptions, 4 clearances, 2 blocks and 9 recoveries to lead the back line. And he almost made it to the end without a yellow. 93 minutes was as much as he could manage though.
CB: Miles Robinson – 9. Relatively low numbers for Miles: 2 tackles, 1 interception, 2 clearances and 9 recoveries. Miles has started all but 1 league game so far, and finished all of them, but amazingly still looks fairly fresh. The big question: will get to play against Tata Martino’s Mexico on Friday?
CB: Jeff Larentowicz – 6. 4 tackles, 1 interception, 1 clearance and 9 recoveries. It’s not overly clear to me why he got the start over Florentin Pogba.
LWB: Dion Pereira – 5. Played just 45 minutes, and wasn’t effective. Just 19 passes for 79% accuracy, and only 2 balls into the box.
LM Eric Remedi – 5.5. Also not a great game, and a yellow card to boot. Still, 90.2% completion rate on 51 passes, but tightly clustered around the center circle.
RM: Darlington Nagbe – 7. 46 passes for 91.3% accuracy. And the assist. I’d also like to know if anyone keeps track of no-look passes. That is, passes made without checking where the receiving player is. Darlington would score very high on that stat. He seems to have an innate knowledge of where every player is on the field.
RWB: Julian Gressel – 6. My advice to Julian: stay in bed for a week. Taken out after 57 minutes and just 30 passes with only 80% connecting. Also had 1 shot on target.
LAM: Emerson Hyndman – 6. Hardly a like-for-like replacement for Barco, but there wasn’t a choice, and he has earned the minutes. Also got a shot on target, and had 80% accuracy on 45 passes.
RAM: Pity Martinez – 7. Played 84 minutes, and played them well. 5 shots, although only 1 on target, and 42 passes with 78.6% accuracy, one of which was killer.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. The scoring streak continues. He had 6 shots in the game, with just to goal on target. Plenty of other chances, though, and if he had been able to finish after tripping over Andre Blake, the result could have been very different.
SUB: Justin Meram – 6. Came on at the half, but really wasn’t much of an improvement over Dion, although the team around him was tiring. 27 passes for 66.7% accuracy.
SUB: Franco Escobar – 6. Replaced Julian in an evident defensive move with the team still up by 1. 1 tackle, 2 interceptions, 1 clearance and 1 recovery. Hopefully, he’ll be 90 minutes ready after the international break.
SUB: Tito Villalba – 6. Played 6 official minutes, and had no positive impact on the game.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 7. A couple of the lineup choices were a surprise, but the game plan was solid, as were the substitutions.
AUGUST – 9. Almost a perfect month. Fell short by about 2.5 hours.