Stop me if this sounds familiar: Ezequiel Barco scores an early goal, the outmatched opponent manages to massively outshoot Atlanta and scores a silly and preventable goal, Emerson Hyndman scores the game-winner, United’s right back goes down in the first half with an injury.
Yeah, this wasn’t a great deal different than what happpened in Nashville last week. At least we didn’t lose another striker.
For the first time ever, Atlanta starts the season with 6 points from 2 games, and finds itself as the sole perfect team in the Eastern Conference. The Western Conference isn’t much better, with just three. Amazingly, those are Sporting Kansas City, Minnesota United and…the Colorado Rapids. The times, they are a-changin’, it seems. Which means that after next week, the league will be down to a maximum of three perfect teams, with the two conference leaders facing off at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. More on that later.
Coach Frank de Boer yet again faced some tough lineup choices, although he now has a few more cards to play than he did just a week ago. However, he eschewed the obvious 0-0-10 against FC Cincinnati, who remain as awful as they were last year, and stuck with the 3-4-3, dropping in Laurence Wyke and Adam Jahn in the spots he was forced to sub them into last time around.
The Stripes started the game with some predictable nerves but quickly settled in and started dominating possession. The team played with an aggressive press virtually the entire game. It felt like Atlanta was more or less permanently camped out in Cincinnati’s half, although the stats say that 48% of the game was played in the middle third and only 24% in the away third. The player positions indicate that United were high up the field:
Atlanta is on the left. Not only did they play high, they played organized as well. Cincy was in a 4-2-3-1, in case you were wondering. The heatmaps confirm this, and also indicate that Atlanta continues to play up the middle:
Despite this, Atlanta managed just 8 shots in the game (although numerous other good chances were created), compared with 14 by Cincinnati. But the xG tells a different story: United’s was 1.90 vs. 0.55 for Cincinnati. That’s the big difference from the Nashville game, in which Atlanta scored 2 low-probability goals and had an xG of only 0.24.
Other than the cobbled-together back line, there remains one glaring weakness in Atlanta’s game: crosses.
United attempted 11 crosses in the game and completed none of them. The good news is that all but one of them (which Brooks Lennon managed to sky all the way to the opposite corner) ended up in the penalty area. So, either they missed their target (which ought to be difficult since Jahn is 6’3”), or the target was out of position or covered by a defender. But at least the crosses are getting to playable locations.
So far, FdB has gotten as much out of his team as can be expected under the circumstances. But he’s about to need to get a lot more. Atlanta now faces a stretch of 4 games over 11 days. 2 of those are on the road (2.5, I guess, if you count Kennesaw as not really home), and one of those in possibly the most hostile and environmentally challenging soccer venue in all of North America, the Estadio Azteca.
I’ve previously noted that Club América is beatable, and I stand by that. But the short turnaround and tough personnel choices make the matchup rather less appealing than it might be. Wednesday evening is going to be interesting. Moreover, América played Friday evening and so will have had an extra day’s rest. Admittedly, the game was a tough one. with América needing a stoppage time goal to salvage a 3-3 draw against Pumas UNAM. The game was at UNAM, but that doesn’t really help because they are in Mexico City too.
Then next Saturday Atlanta faces its first meaningful MLS opponent: KC. Sporting have racked up 7 goals in two wins, admittedly against opposition almost as weak as Atlanta’s – the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Houston Dynamo – but they clearly have an offensive arsenal they were lacking last season, led by new acquisition Alan Pulido. Peter Vermes has his team firing on all cylinders, and does not have CCL to worry about.
Club América next comes to Fifth Third Bank Stadium. Like Atlanta they will have had short rest before their away leg, as they play Sunday against Cruz Azul, the current Clausura leader. Finally, Atlanta head north to Soldier Field in Chicago for a slightly late St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
Much to chew on, For now, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is Ezequiel Barco, not just for his goal and assist, but for generally controlling the game start to finish. Special Mentions go to Pity Martinez for his excellent contributions and to Matheus Rossetto for giving us a glimpse of what to expect from him going forward.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. 3 saves in the game, 2 of them Save of the Week worthy. That was slightly marred by allowing himself to get completely out of position on Yuya Kubo’s goal. He picked up a knock at the end of the first half, but looks to be OK.
LB: Anton Walkes – 7. A solid game overall. 1 tackle, 2 interceptions, 3 clearances, 1 block and 5 recoveries. Given the injuries on the back line so far, Walkes may well be the most important off-season acquisition Atlanta made.
CB: Fernando Meza – 8. LGP was fun and exciting. Meza by comparison is boring but dependable. Once Miles Robinson and Franco Escobar are back, United’s back line will be impressive. 1 tackle, 2 interceptions, 8 clearances and 6 recoveries.
RB: Laurence Wyke – 7. If anyone has stepped up more strongly than Laurence, I’m not sure who it might be. His game was cut brutally short, with him being forced out after 44 minutes (he probably should have been gone earlier with that nasty lump on his head). But his long passing was impressive and he was clearly up to the task of defending against MLS opponents. 1 clearance, 1 block and 4 recoveries.
LW: Jake Mulraney – 6. After getting a close look at him in the Birmingham preseason game I thought he seemed slow. I’ll admit to being wrong on that front. He clearly has pace, and in this game in particular was able to press high. However, that’s about as positive as I can get. Just 75% passing on a lowly 28 attempts over 80 minutes.
LM: Eric Remedi – 7. This was as good a game as we have seen from Eric in quite a while. His brief stretch riding the bench late last season clearly had the desired effect. He managed to connect 92.9% of 77 passes, and it was nearly impossible to take the ball away from him.
RM: Emerson Hyndman – 8. Comparisons to Darlington Nagbe are inevitable, I guess, although Eric Remedi is performing some of the responsibilities previously assigned to Nagbe. However, Emerson clearly has a nose for goal that Nagbe does not. Darlington scored 2 goals in 56 MLS regular season games for Atlanta. Emerson now has 3 in 17.
RW: Brooks Lennon – 6. Like Mulraney, his wing play was less than stellar. 75.6% passing accuracy on 41 attempts. Brooks was close to invisible for much of the game.
LAM: Ezequiel Barco – 9. 4 shots, 3 on goal and several other chances he should have taken. Smartly took the ball to the corner late rather than take a late chance on goal and was impressive in every way. And he was fouled 5 times, of course.
RAM: Pity Martinez – 8. Almost as impressive as Zeke, getting the true assist and a hockey assist. He showed more speed than we have probably ever seen from him. They say it can take a player a year to adjust to a new team; it looks like that may well apply to Pity. 2 shots, both on goal, and like Zeke he was fouled 5 times. Given a necessary break after 67 minutes.
FWD: Adam Jahn – 7. Not sure what to say about a target striker who has no shots in a game. But he wasn’t bad as such. He definitely filled a role slightly different than what Josef does, though. His hold-up play was good and he was clearly a distraction to the Cincinnati defenders. He also showed some serious pace, and at one stage found himself totally alone with the ball in the Cincinnati half. That being said, a long-term solution he is not.
SUB: George Campbell – 7. Yet another emergency right back substitution. But he performed relatively well. 1 tackle, 1 interception, 2 clearances, 2 blocks and 1 recovery. Not bad at all for a youngster thrown in at the deep end.
SUB: Matheus Rossetto – 6.5. Every time I see his name I can’t help but think of this:
Thus I am declaring his nickname to be Rosie. Other than the yellow card for a late tackle, he gave us much to be optimistic about. Good ball control and he clearly is already aware of how his teammates play around him. 90.9% passing on 22 attempts.
SUB: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. The obligatory Big Red appearance. Took over for Mulraney when the orders were clearly to finish the game off.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 8. How deep is his bag of tricks? We’re probably about to find out.
ALL YOUR ATTENDANCE RANKING ARE BELONG TO US – 10. It took Atlanta fans just 35 home games to snag all the top ten single-game attendance rankings.