I understand why they are doing it, but between MLS and the USL Championship I am getting pretty tired of regional games. By the end of this week, Atlanta United will have played 11 regular season games against just 6 different opponents. Atlanta United 2’s entire season will comprise 16 games and just 7 opponents, and in the unlikely event they make it to the playoffs, the first 2 rounds would be against teams from that same group. That is true of almost the entire USL, of course, but at least fans in several USL cities are getting to attend games (such as here in Birmingham). But please, let me see some different faces on the pitch. At least MLS is getting ready to spread its wings a bit, although the schedule beyond this weekend remains a mystery.
Ah well. Some soccer is better than none, right?
And so we get to this year’s Orlando City Part Deux. The conclusion was eerily similar to a certain much-loved previous edition, which means that on top of everything else, this was just a rerun.
Or was it a reboot? From Atlanta’s point of view, perhaps. Mike Conti certainly thought so:
Some will call me out on this, but this really feels like a potential turning point to the season for Atlanta United. This team badly needed some confidence, and this can potentially give it to them.— Mike Conti (@MikeConti929) September 6, 2020
There was a fair amount of agreement in the replies. At a minimum, this was possibly the best we have seen United play all season, especially in the second half. Granted, despite controlling 56% of the possession, Atlanta was outshot and outpassed by Orlando. Except there were two major exceptions to that: Atlanta’s 6 shots on goal beat Orlando’s 4, and were better numerically and in accuracy in passing in the final third. Indeed, just 22% of Orlando’s passes were in that area for just 69% completion. Atlanta managed 31% and 72% respectively.
Not that either team seemed overly interested in attacking. 47% of the game was played in the middle third, with the two more or less splitting the offensive thirds. The average position chart shows this quite well:
Atlanta’s 4-2-3-1 looks more like a 4-3-3 here, whereas Orlando’s 4-4-1-1 looks like a 4-2-3-1. But for both sides that’s a result of the heavy compression of play.
As alluded to earlier, Atlanta’s play improved after the break. The passing in the first half was, well, atrocious, but improved markedly in the second half:
First half is on the left. Note for both halves the thin, and largely unsuccessful, play in attack. But it does improve after the orange slices were consumed, not just in attack, but all over the field.
Although the team came out of the locker room clearly more energized, a primary driver of the change was the replacement of Miles Robinson with Jürgen Damm ten minutes into the second half. The formation didn’t really change, with Brooks Lennon moving back to right back and Franco Escobar shifting over to center back, but the addition of the speed threat confused Orlando’s defensive plan entirely. Note the prevalence of #22 in the upper portion of the right-hand chart above.
Damm’s minutes are increasing slowly, but his integration into the team seems to be developing quickly. As he moves to 90-minute readiness, I think we can expect continued improvement in Atlanta’s overall play.
Obviously, with only one Designated Player on the roster currently, and an unstable coaching arrangement, there are limits to how much improvement can be achieved. For a certainty, Wednesday night’s return match against Inter Miami now looks rather more promising than last week’s lackluster home leg of the tie.
Thus, in a rather more positive mood than of late, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
OK, I didn’t give Jürgen Damm Man of the Match honors for a short substitute appearance, but Adam Jahn’s 29 official minutes were longer and about as productive as they could be. So he gets the nod. Special Mentions go to fellow subs Damm, Jake Mulraney and Matheus Rossetto who also much-needed sparks.
GK: Brad Guzan – 7. Just 2 saves in the game, but they were critical, especially the brilliant foot save against Jhegson Mendez.
LB: George Bello – 7. George played 84 minutes, leaving when Stephen Glass decided to go full YOLO. But it was a very solid performance, particularly in his recovery play. 3 tacklesm, 1 interception and 4 recoveries.
CB: Anton Walkes – 6. 4 tackles, 1 interception, 1 clearance and 2 recoveries. A workmanlike performance, and he can hardly be faulted for keeping Benji Michel onside for the Orlando goal. Besides, he made up for that with the hockey assist.
CB: Miles Robinson – 5. A short outing for Miles but still reasonable. 1 tackle, 1 interception, 1 clearance and 2 recoveries. He did have a few very errant passes though.
RB: Franco Escobar – 6.5. Franco is now the most carded player in MLS this season and his second suspension will give Stephen Glass some headscratching for the Miami game. That card marred a strong outing: 3 tackles, 1 interception, 2 clearances, 1 tackle and 8 recoveries.
LDM: Jeff Larentowicz – 6.5. Jeff was strong in midfield and effective in defense. 1 tackle, 2 interceptions, 1 clearance, 1 block and 4 recoveries. And his 95.4% passing accuracy was the best in the game on 43 attempts. But he also picked up a yellow card.
RDM: Eric Remedi – 5. Eric is erratic. He was strong in midweek, not so much on Saturday. 81.4% completion rate on 43 passes. Also 1 shot off frame. Pulled after 84 minutes for the last gasp offensive switch.
LAM: Ezequiel Barco – 7. Guess who led the game in fouls incurred? He was taken down a whopping 6 times in just 71 minutes, and leads all players in MLS with 34 so far this season (4.25 per game). It didn’t slow him down much though. He had 2 shots, both on target, and managed to complete 87.5% of his 32 passes.
CAM: Emerson Hyndman – 6. 94.6% accuracy on 55 passes make for a pretty good evening. He wasn’t a great contributor to the attack though.
RAM: Brooks Lennon – 5. Brooks got a yellow card but I’m not docking him for it because 1) it stopped a very promising attack, and 2) it was a pretty minor foul, if it was a foul at all. But 78.4% accuracy on 37 passes isn’t really good enough. 1 shot on goal keeps the score from being weaker.
FWD: Erick Torres – 5.5. Got a yellow card for an unnecessary foul, and was 1-for-3 in his shooting. That’s better than we’ve seen from him so far, but still needs to get better.
SUB: Jürgen Damm – 7. I’ve talked plenty about Jürgen already. 84.6% on 13 passes.
SUB: Adam Jahn – 8. 2 attempt on goal, both headers, both on target, and almost identical. One went in. That’s what you want from a big striker. Atlanta’s new supersub, perhaps? On the other hand, it took him 364 minutes to get his first Atlanta goal. No wonder he looked so happy.
SUB: Matheus Rossetto – 7. Brought on for Barco, Rossetto attempted 7 passes and completed 6.
SUB: Jon Gallagher – 6. Part of Glass’ ongoing youth experiment, Jon wasn’t much of a factor overall, despite connecting on all 3 of his passes.
SUB: Jake Mulraney – 7. In just 6 official minutes, Jake completed 8 of 10 passes, including the assist that saved the game.
COACH: Stephen Glass – 6. Kudos for mixing it up in the second half.
KISSES – 10. Jahn should really get bonus points for that.