Well, MLS was guaranteed at least one team in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, and one team is what it got. After the debacle in Atlanta last week, it was fairly obvious which team that was going to be. And with United coming into the game already suffering from the injury bug, there was really no realistic chance at overcoming the 3-goal deficit.
That’s not to say that the Five Stripes didn’t go for it. They just didn’t do it very successfully. That the teams’ only goal in the game came from its central defensive midfielder rather points to the fact that the attack was pretty much toothless. Here’s this game’s key numbers: the team held an impressive 69.3% possession, but generated just 9 total shots with it (and only 4 on goal), which works out to a shot every 6.9 minutes. In contrast, Philly accumulated 22 shots in its limited time in control. That’s a shot every 1.3 minutes, 5.5x faster than what Atlanta managed. A heady output for a team that only had to keep its opponent from scoring more than twice.
In all, Santiago Sosa attempted 3 of those shots (2 on target) and a fourth was a header by Miles Robinson. George Bello also had one. Josef Martinez had none. That’s not exactly his fault though. Apart from the fact that he is clearly still regaining game readiness, he was entirely deprived of any useful service.
United basically found themselves stuck in the midfield. Here are the heatmaps:
Atlanta is on the right. The Union more or less set up a blockade 25 yards from goal. To do that, they employed the 4-3-1-2, which is a defensively-oriented variant of the 4-3-3 that Atlanta was playing. It achieves that by forcing the opponent to play wide, which is why Atlanta’s heatmap has a red stripe completely spanning the field. Philly predominantly played from the center, which is precisely what the formation aims to do.
But it also allows for attack. It retains two strikers (even though they are effectively attacking midfielders). And as we have already seen, United is vulnerable to the counterattack. Which is how they were able to rack so many shots, even if they were largely off target (Guzan made just 4 saves in the game). Ultimately, though, it was no surprise that the goal that finally put paid to Atlanta’s hopes came from the consonantally-overloaded Kacper Przybylko, who had also stuck daggers in Atlanta in the first leg.
So far this season, Atlanta has scored 7 goals in 7 games, while allowing 7. It has scored multiple goals in just one game and allowed multiple goals twice. The overall record is 3-2-2. That doesn’t seem all that bad, but 2 of the wins came against LD Alajuelense. One was by a penalty and the other by virtue of the Costa Ricans not being able to travel with their best players.
The new look Atlanta, while at least being exciting to watch, is thus still a work in progress. This weekend could be a useful test against an Inter Miami team that is behind United in the standings only on goal difference.