OK, the room is crowded with elephants after this one. At least three of them, possibly four.
First, let’s discuss the handball. As it happens, on Saturday morning I completed my annual US Soccer Referee Recertification, and handballs were a primary topic and thus conveniently fresh in my mind.
Law 12 states that a handball is a cautionable offence (i.e. a yellow card) if it is intended to “interfere with or stop a promising attack”. This is the decision that referee Drew Fischer made. What he declined to do, and almost immediately so, since he did not hesitate to show Joe Willis the yellow card, was to consider the handball a DOGSO (i.e., denial of a goal-scoring opportunity). If s, that would have been a red card.
There are four considerations for deeming a foul to be a DOGSO:
· distance between the offence and the goal
· general direction of the play
· likelihood of keeping or gaining control of the ball
· location and number of defenders
Apparently, the distance to the goal was not a consideration in this situation. That is unclear to me, as I would have thought that to be a primary defense of the non-call. Regardless of the fact that Willis had left his goal wide open, the shot was barely over the halfway line. The direction of play was also not a factor. Clearly, it was towards goal. Ezequiel Barco had taken not one, but two shots. Since he had taken the second shot, control of the ball was also not in question. Clearly, he had sufficient control to make an attempt on goal. The final consideration is the number of defenders. According to PRO, this was the primary reason it was not called a DOGSO.
There were in fact two defenders tracking back. Here’s the shot:
This was from a camera angle not shown on the broadcast. You can see two Nashville defenders closer to goal than Willis. Closest to Willis is Walker Zimmerman, who is likely not in position to affect the outcome; the ball would obviously go way over his head. The other defender (possibly midfielder Hany Mukhtar; the video isn’t clear) approaching the edge of the penalty area is the key here. Does he have a chance to intercept the shot? Maybe. Given the angle of his run, I would say probably not. But since Willis blocked the shot, in a clear attempt to prevent the attempt on goal, we’ll never know.
The law is clear: those four items must be taken into consideration. By the letter of the law, then, Fischer was right. However, Willis’ clear intent was to block the shot illegally and my guess is he didn’t know anyone was behind him. In other words, he got away with this one.
Fischer got another big decision right earlier in the game too. Emerson Hyndman’s golazo was in part due to the Nashville defense playing like a U11 team. That is, they saw AR Kathryn Nesbitt raise her flag for offside and forgot what everybody knows, which is to play to the whistle. Nesbitt was probably correct to raise the flag, as she was not in a position to see who played the ball forward when Franco Escobar collected it from an offside position. After Drew McCarty headed it down, it fell towards Hyndman and Nashville’s Randall Leal. Fischer from his position was able to see that it was Leal who touched it, making Escobar onside, and so does not blow the play dead. Franco then plays the ball to Barco, who sends it back into the box, where it eventually falls to Hyndman for the shot. You can in fact see that Barco thinks there was an offside too, as Franco starts waving at him to play on. But the Nashville players paused long enough to let the play develop to their detriment. Welcome to MLS.
Franco is also the third elephant. He went down with an injury in the first half and had to be replaced by Laurence Wyke, signed on a short-term deal from the 2s. Wyke did fine, overall, but the loss of Escobar (again) is a problem for an already depleted back line. As of this writing, we do not have a status update on him, so the problem may solve itself. But then again, maybe not.
So, three elephants. We don’t really care about the Willis yellow. The Portland Timbers might, though, as they are next up for Nashville. The non-offside was in our favor. The Franco injury is definitely a concern, but is likely of limited duration. But the jumbo in the room is, of course, Josef Martinez’ torn ACL.
Losing a star striker in this manner is never good, of course, neither for the team nor for the striker himself. However, our own Rob Usry has already provided some sage observations as to why Atlanta United can still be a force to be reckoned with this season, in MLS at least. If nothing else, the team has some time to find a replacement striker. The next four games on Atlanta’s schedule are FC Cincinnati and Sporting Kansas City at home, then the Chicago Fire and Cincinnati again away. Playing a 3-5-2 or a 5-3-2 with Pity Martinez and Barco up top, garnering at least 9 points out of 12 should be not just achievable but expected.
The CCL schedule is less forgiving, with games coming up on the 11th and 18th, but still manageable. There is no reason to give up on it: Club América are beatable. They were nearly handed a shock defeat by Guatemala’s Comunicaciones (probably the weakest team in the tournament), needing a late penalty and a shootout to advance. The semi-finals are over a month away yet, and a striker could be on board by then if Atlanta advances.
So, we get through the next month, we should be good after that.
I’ve blabbered on too long already, so no in-depth tactical stuff this week. Besides, it was a fairly boring game from that perspective anyway. So without further ado, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
The community awarded Man of the Match to Zeke. A very defensible position, I will grant. However, I’m giving it to Hyndman, who had a very strong game even without the goal, and Special Mentions to Barco and Wyke, who really stepped up under difficult conditions.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. Solid as ever, and made 3 saves on the evening. No chance on the Walker Zimmerman goal, which was about as lucky and ugly a goal as you will see.
LB: Anton Walkes – 7. 1 tackle, 1 block, 1 interception, 5 clearances and 5 recoveries. He played in a fairly advanced position, averaging well into the middle third.
CB: Fernando Meza – 7. 1 interception, 3 clearances, 1 block and 5 recoveries. Also spent relatively little time in the defensive third, and looked extremely comfortable all game.
RB: Franco Escobar – 7. Only played 1 half, but made the most of it, most especially on the heads-up play for the Hyndman goal. 1 tackle, 1 interception, 1 clearance and 3 recoveries.
LW: Jake Mulraney – 6. A somewhat better game from Jake. 81.8% accuracy on 33 passes is still not up to standard, though, and he got seriously megged in the lead-up to the Barco/Willis incident. He didn’t get his target on a single cross into the box, but then neither did anyone else.
LM: Eric Remedi – 6.5. Picked up a yellow for a handball, but was generally very tough to get around. 46 passes, 78.3% connecting.
RM: Emerson Hyndman – 8. Just 1 shot, but man did he make it count. Also 90.6% accuracy on 53 passes. Drifted wide left, which tends to suggest he was covering for Mulraney.
RW: Brooks Lennon – 6. An unimpressive performance all told. A lousy 72.% connection rate on just 18 passes. 1 shot off target.
LAM: Ezequiel Barco – 8. 2 shots, 1 on frame, and it was a burner. 84.9% accuracy on 33 passes, pretty good for an attacker, and he was all over the place with speed and determination. Fouled 3 times.
RAM: Pity Martinez – 7. Played 81 fairly productive minutes. Only 1 shot off frame, but managed to connect on 75% of 44 passes.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 7. Not his best game, injury notwithstanding. Just 1 shot, off target. Get well soon, Josef.
SUB: Laurence Wyke – 7. The community gave him just a 5.92 average score, which surprises me. You guys are tough. This was an opportunity Laurence probably never expected to get, and mostly he made the most of it. In 45 minutes he got 1 interception, 2 clearances and 2 recoveries.
SUB: Adam Jahn – 5. The player no one wanted to see. In 21 official minutes he didn’t do very much, except commit 2 fouls.
SUB: Jeff Larentowicz – 6. Came on for Pity in close-out duty. Did the job. No issues, but nothing spectacular.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 8. It’s not often a coach has to make 2 major injury substitutions in one game. That forces serious tactical changes, and FdB did as well as could be expected given the options he had on the bench.
59,069 – 0. C’mon, Atlanta fans. That was really subpar.