Well, at least one person probably was. And taking notes, no doubt.
It’s a near certainty that impressing the new coach (who, let’s face it, was already old news by game time) was on the minds of the Atlanta United players as they entered a game that no one expected them to win, and, even if they did, would be utterly unlikely to overcome a 3-goal first leg deficit. 2021 isn’t here yet, but it’s coming awful fast, a whole new round of (utterly undeserved) CONCACAF Champions League play is less than two months away already. Best to be on the nice list this Christmas.
Well, they did win, although not by enough to dig themselves out of that deep hole, thanks in large part to heroic goalkeeping by Memo Ochoa, who racked up 6 saves in the game. But Atlanta is now 2-1 against América, despite being outscored 5-4. And that in a performance that was a stark contrast to the last few games. Few meaning a couple of dozen or so.
To be fair, América probably wasn’t trying too hard. With advancement virtually assured and a semi-final looming on Saturday against LAFC at an absurdly late 10:30pm, the Mexican side started just three players who started the first leg back in March and substituted in two more. The remaining 10 players fielded in this game did not play in the first leg. Not a first choice side, then. It didn’t help them much in Saturday’s late show, which they lost 3-1 to a 10-man LAFC side, and two losses in four days to MLS teams they should have beaten resulted in the firing of Miguel Herrera two days later.
United’s roster wasn’t exactly their first choice either. This being the offseason, waivers, re-entry drafts and all the rest of the nonsense that is MLS roster-building make life staggeringly difficult to field a team. Consequently, Stephen Glass had a team that seemed to be built around finding original ways to spell Eric, plus some guy from Newcastle who is most certainly not Miguel Almiron.
It was also a very young side. Glass started 2 19-year-olds (George Bello and Erik López) and subbed in a third (Jackson Conway). That is in keeping with his one strength this year, namely a focus on youth, which also seems to be important to Gabriel Heinze (side note: Agustín Almendra is just 20). I suspect some continuity there.
So the battle of kids with everything to play for versus the subs with little to lose went to the kids. And they deserved it. Atlanta played on the front foot for the full 90, racking up 63.4% possession and outshooting América 10-9 and 7-1 in shots on goal. Team passing accuracy was a strong 89%, and 55% of a whopping 550 passes was in the attacking half, with 26% in the final third.
One particular problem for Atlanta was the unavailability of Jürgen Damm due to injury. With no other real options at right wing, this forced Franco Escobar to play extremely high at fullback. Detailed stats are a tad difficult to come by, but here’s the graphic of everything he did in the game:
A busy evening’s work by any standards. And, I have to add, no cards. A coincidence that he played with Heinze at Newell’s Old Boys (whence also one Tata Martino)?
And then of course there was the goal from Jackson Conway, who is an inch shorter than Adam Jahn but is likely standing way taller right now. Conway was born in Leeds, England, whose legendary United team are back in the Premier League after a 16-year absence thanks to the coaching of the equally legendary Marcelo Bielsa, whose disciples include Gabriel Heinze (and also one Tata Martino).
Synchronicity all over the place. And I haven’t even mentioned Aberdeen natives Jon Gallagher and Stephen Glass…
Finally, it was entertaining. How long has it been since we could say that?
Okay, let’s get to the player ratings. First, you can view the community player rating votes here.
And, with optimism welling in my heart, here are the final Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings of 2020:
Man of the Match is Franco Escobar, who put in that mighty effort. Special Mentions go to Jackson Conway and George Bello for their respective valuable contributions.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. Just 1 save in the game, and that was fairly routine. Doubtless a far less taxing 90 than he had expected.
LB: George Bello – 8. Bello got the assist on Conway’s goal, and was a healthy 89% accurate on 45 passes. Defensively, 2 tackles, 1 interception, and three recoveries. Of those 6 actions, 3 were in América’s half. The Mexicans were apparently avoiding him.
CB: Miles Robinson – 6.5. Picked up a late yellow card, but was generally not quite to his normal form. He was active though: 1 tackle, 2 blocks, 3 interceptions, 1 clearance and 9 recoveries. Both blocks were barely outside the 6-yard box.
CB: Fernando Meza – 7. Not challenged at all - he logged 6 recoveries. That’s it. All outside the penalty area, and 2 in the attacking half. He was 96% on 72 passes, and only 1 of those was from inside the 18.
RB: Franco Escobar – 9. See above. 1 tackle, 1 interception, 1 clearance and 5 recoveries. 1 shot on goal, 89% complete on 61 passes. His best game in quite a long time, especially coming off a red card.
LDM: Emerson Hyndman – 7. Hyndman was playing? Who knew? Connected on 54 of 60 passes and committed 2 fouls. Somehow stayed in the game the full 90.
RDM: Eric Remedi – 6.5. Incurred a fairly early yellow card and wasn’t very effective after that. Or before it, for that matter. Went 92% on 74 passes, and was pulled after 80 minutes.
LAM: Ezequiel Barco – 6. If Zeke isn’t feeling under pressure now, he should be. Or maybe he is looking forward to some renewed mentorship. Either way, he needs to shape up fast under the new regime. 2 shots, 1 on target, and a lowly 26 passes, connecting on 23, in 62 minutes of play.
CAM: Erik López – 7. Erik gets a better rating than Barco, but only because this was his first first-team game. He actually looked good out there; the numbers just don’t reflect it: 1 shot on target and 69% on 16 passes in 76 minutes.
RAM: Jake Mulraney – 7. Meh. No shots, and 92% on 24 passes. Yanked after 80 minutes in what proved the decisive move.
FWD: Adam Jahn – 6. Is Jahn’s Atlanta career coming to an end? He managed no shots and completed just 4 of 9 passes. Taken out after 62 minutes.
SUB: Marcelino Moreno – 5. Dumb. Very dumb. No, extremely dumb given who was observing. 1 shots on frame, and 80% on 15 passes over 28 minutes before getting the red card.
SUB: Erick Torres – 7. Also likely surplus to requirements. 2 shots on goal and 56% on 9 passes. 1 goal and 1 assist in 520 minutes this season.
SUB: Jack Gurr – 6. An unfamiliar face to almost everyone. Completed 3 of 4 passes in 14 official minutes.
SUB: Jackson Conway – 8. Scoring on your second touch at the top professional level is a pretty good way to impress a new coach. And he looked entirely confident out there.
SUB: Matheus Rossetto – 7. Played 10 minutes and was mostly OK, but hardly overwhelming. 83% on 12 passes.
COACH: Stephen Glass – 8. His swan song, and he did far better than most expected. But how come he couldn’t get the team to play like this all season?
JEFF LARENTOWICZ – 10. Wait…no contractually obligated appearance? What do you mean: he wasn’t even on the game roster? Jeff has been in MLS since 2005. I’ve been watching MLS since 2006. Jeff is always there. He’s put up 515 MLS team appearances, made 5 lower division games, earned 4 USMNT caps, is the all-time MLS leader in minutes, and won 2 MLS Cups. Quite the career, and thanks for everything, Jeff.