If you didn’t know the final score and I were to tell you that both teams had a scoring to shots on target ratio of 50%, you might think that sounds pretty good, yes? You might also think this was a fairly exciting game.
Obviously, at 1-1 this was not what might be described as a barnstormer. Two shots on target each is, frankly, pitiful. And yes, that also means Atlanta had just one shot on target from open play. Even worse, the two teams managed to conspire for an aggregate xG of 1.4. And that was on the back of a late Josef Martínez penalty kick (Raúl Ruidíaz’ early goal was also on a set piece, of course, coming from a corner). Up to that point they were barely hovering around the 0.5 mark. Apparently the Five Stripes decided to go easy on backup goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland (or maybe they thought it was the other Stefan and got scared), and Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer, being the gentleman that he is, opted to return the favor.
Or maybe the teams decided to have a dance party in the middle of the pitch and didn’t invite the two goalies. I mean, look at the heatmaps:
This becomes even more evident when you consider the passing networks:
One (or thirty) really is the loneliest number.
Let’s get even worse yet. Both teams played variants of the 3-4-3; Seattle in a 3-4-1-2 and Atlanta in a 3-4-2-1. Theoretically those are relatively offensive formations. In United’s case, Heinze arranged it with Santiago Sosa moved to the middle of the back 3 and George Bello shifted up to left wingback. It also means he had Brooks Lennon (who was in good part responsible for Ruidíaz scoring) at right wingback.
Hmm. There was quite a bit of symmetry in this one. Seattle scores early on a set piece due in part to Atlanta’s right wingback Lennon, who lost track of Ruidíaz. Atlanta’s late set piece goal was caused by Seattle’s Brad Smith – their left wingback. With a foul on Lennon.
Anyway, both teams were set up to play fast and high. They proceeded to do no such thing for the most part. During an in-game interview Schmetzer expressed his evident frustration with his squad not being able to string passes together and make plays. He wasn’t wrong. Seattle managed just 37.1% possession (which just makes Atlanta’s lack of good scoring chances all the worse) and a rather ordinary 75.6% passing accuracy. Up to the goal, Seattle had 57.4% possession and then apparently as a team decided to hang back on the early lead.
For its part, United was somewhat hampered by a silly early yellow incurred by Erik López. As one of the front three, he was rendered (even more) ineffective as a result until he was yanked at half time. He was replaced by Jake Mulraney, who even with only 45 minutes was probably Atlanta’s Man of the Match. At the least he showed some grit, determination and a general intent of getting towards goal. No one else seemed that interested.
Well, here is some good news to take from this game, and the previous one, for that matter. Don’t go to sleep on Atlanta (I’m not sure if I mean that literally). Four points earned with very late goals. Keep watching until the final whistle. And isn’t it fitting that the MLS’ named beneficiary of Fergie time is a coach who used to play that worthy?