What would you think about a team that takes 20 shots, only 5 of which are on target, before finally finding the back of the net via a defensive sub 80 minutes into the game? On the other hand, what would you think about a team that takes no shots at all until the 65th minute and finally scores in the 83rd minute via a midfield sub? On top of that, the first team fails to take another shot after its goal, despite giving up its lead.
In a word: futility.
It was like an F.A. Cup game between a Premier League team that sent out a bunch of reserves to play a League Two team that miraculously got that far and had no expectation of winning, but put all its efforts into defending and pulled off a late miracle to embarrass the big guys.
Despite the fact that Atlanta United was ahead of Inter Miami in the standings going into Wednesday’s game, I doubt that many of our readers expected anything other than a loss, and a lopsided one at that. Miami had picked up some firepower, and Atlanta’s depleted squad is struggling mightily. Moreover, Atlanta’s only active DP, the newly-acquired Marcelino Moreno, was mysteriously left off the game roster.
Early on, a big Miami victory looked very much on the cards. Miami had 5 shots in the first ten minutes of the game, and it did not appear that the Stripes would be able to survive much of that.
And yet, survive they did, partly as a result of strong defending and partly as a result of Miami not being quite as dominant as the numbers suggest. First, here’s the heatmap:
Miami’s penetration into the Atlanta defense was not quite as deep as it often seemed. Atlanta’s was non-existent, but’s another story.
Second, those 21 shots were not nearly as dangerous as they could have been. 10 of them were from outside the penalty area, and mostly well outside. That, combined with a 5-save performance from Brad Guzan and some heroic defending by Miles Robinson, resulted in a less than effective offensive performance by Miami.
Of course, the onslaught couldn’t be survived forever, but it wasn’t Gonzalo Higuaín or Matías Pellegrini who got the score. No, once again it came down to Brek Shea to come off the bench and open the scoring. The same Brek Shea who scored zero goals for Atlanta in 19 games last season and has a total of 32 goals in an 11-year career.
Somehow, that woke Atlanta up. After that goal, the Stripes had 54.5% possession for the remainder of the game (Miami had 55.2% for the game as a whole) and took 2 shots. One of those resulted in the easiest goal Jake Mulraney is ever likely to score.
In the end, Atlanta held on to the final playoff spot for the time being, although they lead the 11th place team, the Chicago Fire, by virtue of a 1 goal advantage in the second tiebreaker (remember, wins is the first tiebreaker in MLS, not goal difference), but Chicago has a game in hand. And Miami is only a point behind.
Which makes for a tight final stretch. In addition to Toronto FC on Sunday, United have to play Orlando City and the Columbus Crew. That’s three of the top four teams in the conference, and all three games are away. On the other hand, they also play D.C. United and FC Cincinnati, the two worst teams in the conference, at home. Chicago and Miami have slightly easier schedules, so it’s going to be a slugfest. A key game to keep an eye on: the Montreal Impact, who lead Atlanta by a point in the standings, host Miami at 7pm ET tonight. Well, I say host – the game is at Red Bull Arena in New York. In similar vein, the Toronto game will be at Rentschler Field, the UConn football stadium. No gridiron stripes though: the Huskies switched this year to a non-football conference (the Big East), so they elected to go independent for football and had to cancel the entire season.
With that sobering thought, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is Miles Robinson, without whom Miami could easily have scored 3 or 4 goals. Special Mentions to Brad Guzan for almost keeping a clean sheet, and to Jürgen Damm for a fine performance off the bench.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. 5 saves in the game for Brad. Maybe he could have come a bit further off his line on Shea’s goal, but it was a tough choice to make.
LB: George Bello – 7. The entire back line was good on Wednesday. George’s share of the action: 4 tackles, 1 interception, 1 clearance and 6 recoveries. On top of that, he went a decent 80.7% on 31 passes.
CB: Miles Robinson – 8. Sometimes Miles looks like he’s sleepwalking, but he has a very deceptive turn of speed and is not afraid to put his body on the line. He made at least 3 key stops in the game to keep it close. 3 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 clearances and 5 recoveries.
CB: Anton Walkes – 7. Not far behind Miles was his centerback cohort. 2 interceptions, 6 clearances, 4 blocks and 6 recoveries. That’s a night’s work. And his header off a corner kick was Atlanta’s first official shot of the game.
RB: Brooks Lennon – 6.5. He spoiled his evening with a yellow card, but otherwise pretty strong. In 81 minutes he racked up 5 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 clearances and 5 recoveries. On top of that, he was as much of an attacking threat as Atlanta had, although that’s not saying much.
LDM: Eric Remedi – 6.5. Eric got an early yellow card, which obviously hampered him, but he ended up going the full 90. Generally solid defensively and managed 93.1% accuracy on 29 passes, best among Atlanta players.
RDM: Jeff Larentowicz – 6. An ordinary performance from Jeff for 57 minutes. No real defensive contribution, and just 17 passes for 82.4% completion.
LAM: Jon Gallagher – 5. Well off his usually creditable game, although he was playing under frustrating circumstances. In 81 minutes he attempted just 19 passes, and connected on 11 of those.
CAM: Emerson Hyndman – 6. Played the entire game more or less stuck in midfield with no opportunity to attack. 89.7% accuracy on 29 passes though.
RAM: Manuel Castro – 5. Castro has hardly shone this season; I doubt his loan will get extended. 57 minutes on the field yielded just 12 passes, and he missed on 4 of them.
FWD: Adam Jahn – 5.5. There’s not much you can say about a forward who gets absolutely no service. Played 70 minutes for no production. His biggest contribution was the yellow card.
SUB: Jürgen Damm – 8. The big question: is he 90 minutes fit? Wednesday in 33 official minutes (replacing Castro) he attempted 14 passes for 85.7% completion and generally dragged defenders around with him. And there is of course the assist on Mulraney’s goal. Note that the last time he played Toronto (for Tigres UANL in 2018) he was a second half sub and provided an assist.
SUB: Mo Adams – 6. Came on with Damm in place of Jeff, and was solid. Connected on all 15 of his passes.
SUB: Jake Mulraney – 7. I’m not sure if Jake should feel insulted or gleeful. He was rudely ignored by the entire Miami defense who crowded around Damm, who still got the pass off to Mulraney who will never be that open again. A case of being in the right place at the right time.
SUB: Laurence Wyke – 6. Brought on for Lennon after 81 minutes. His presence undoubtedly led to Atlanta’s goal, and he provided the 3rd of Atlanta’s 3 shots.
SUB: Erick Torres – 7. Came on for Gallagher and was the primary creator of the goal, but was cruelly not credited with the secondary assist. Completed all 4 of his passes.
COACH: Stephen Glass – 6. Frankly, I’m not sure what to say here. Glass got the result, but his lineup decisions were baffling. It doesn’t help that the club is being very close-mouthed about injuries and the like.
MORE FUTILITY – 0. Earlier in the day on Wednesday the Netherlands drew 1-1 with Italy. Notwithstanding what that potentially says about Italy, teams managed by Frank de Boer have been outscored 8-1 in their last seven games. That’s right, de Boer went six straight games without seeing his team score. The scoreless streak ran a total of 680 minutes from Hyndman’s goal against FC Cincinnati to van de Beek’s against Italy. A stretch of 221 days.