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PREKRAP: Revenge of the ... place a donkey drinks water in a desert - Atlanta United vs Philadelphia Union

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You know, like a depression in the earth, you might use a shovel to dig something like that, it’s where a donkey drinks water in the desert, everyone knows what that is

Atlanta United v Inter Miami CF Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Editors note: David is out for a few games, but he will be back.

The last time we saw Atlanta United the team was beating Nashville for 80 minutes and then... promptly dropping the deuce to just take one of three points. Oddly, the reaction to the defensive breakdown shipping two goals was... well at least they looked good in the attack? This was something of an odd reaction, nothing is a forgone conclusion in soccer and both the goals that Nashville scored were preventable.

That said, Atlanta did look mighty fine going forward, two guys who were not Josef Martinez scored and in general the team was positional playing like there was about to be a Tifo Football video made about it. In short, it was a tale of two halves... or like 80 minutes and 10 minutes.

I suppose I could understand how the reaction to the two goals and blowing a lead could be reached if Atlanta hadn’t basically done this earlier in the season. It wasn’t in an MLS match, but all the same the team had looked in control of a game and then gave up a goal that seemed totally stoppable that turned the tides of the match. That game was the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League against the Philadelphia Union. While that was obviously important as it relates to the late goal issue that the team may or may not have, it’s more relevant because it led to the events of the second leg that cast a long shadow over the game this weekend.

If a donkey walks into the desert and finds water, what is it called?

This is fun, soccer is fun when there’s delicious, hot, cheap, unhealthy beef and it seems like that exists with Atlanta United and the Philadelphia Union. This has been sort of a simmering thing that seemed to finally melt Jim Curtin’s brain and boil over into public view and into the MLS discourse.

The teams have always had some pretty interesting matchups. Since around 2016ish Philly has been an up and coming team after years of wallowing in more or less the MLS teams that are pretty embarrassing zone. It got so bad that in 2014 or 2015, the Sons of Ben held a sad parade to demand that the front office field a more competitive team. To their credit, and thanks to Curtin getting the best out of what he’s been given, Philly has done that and even brought home the Supporters Shield last season.

Their games against Atlanta United have been interesting barometers for each team along the way as well. More than once, it seemed like Philly had turned the corner and was reaching for the top rung of MLS teams going into a game against the Five Stripes and the question that was asked was: Philly seems good, but are they frauds really? In those games the answer has always been: yes usually, but once no kinda, because eventually they were.**

There was the week 29 match in 2019 in which Philly looked to be on the cusp of not being frauds anymore by beating Atlanta in Chester only to take just four points out of the next four games, finish 3rd behind Atlanta in the conference and then lose to the Five Stripes in the playoffs in 2019. Of course, there was the classic game in which Alejandro Bedoya got a red card for posting and Haris Medujanin got a red for being a huge baby about the ref giving a penalty to Josef Martinez. Ah, these were good times.

Fast forward to 2021 as Philly held a comfortable 3-0 lead in the second leg of the CCL quarter final match in Chester. Philly didn’t exactly bunker, but they weren’t trying to play an attacking expansive game. They did do plenty of time wasting, a tactic that went back to leg one after they got the lead. When the game was over, Curtin and Gabriel Heinze exchanged unpleasantries and, from what is known and reported Heinze was critical of Philly for wasting time and the two managers didn’t shake hands after the game.

Afterward, an emotional Curtin told reporters, “I went to shake his hand after the game in Atlanta, and it was a little touchy.” He went on, “And then I went again [Tuesday], and I shook his hand, and he was kind of dismissive a little bit. I said ‘you weren’t going to shake my hand again,’ and then we had just had a discussion about the game. He thought our players were diving and faking injuries. I get that, but I don’t think that’s what we’re about. I think we’re about doing our talking on the field.”

He then added: “He’s an incredible coach, he’s an incredible player, but you can still be, also, a sore loser and be an asshole at the end of the game.” Curtin also stated his admiration for great coaches, “I think there’s great American coaches in this league, there’s great foreign coaches in this league, and I don’t want to make anything more of it than that.”

Somehow, on the internet of all places, this got twisted into a discussion about American coaches in MLS being seen as not as good as international coaches even though the typical narrative about MLS coaches is that if they come from outside the league they can’t keep up with the roster rules and mountains and flying coach.

Folks, lots of people, the best people, top people, they reached out to me - they said, Jim, you know, Heinze didn’t say anything about Americans being inferior, but the discourse twisted it into a strawman about Americans having an inferiority complex which... (the narrator for this part is changing back to me) ... seems a lot like what someone who has an inferiority complex would do.

For no reason whatsoever, here’s a photo of Bruce Arena.

Trinidad & Tobago v United States - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images

Anyway, Heinze apologized for making Curtin upset, but also insinuated that he wasn’t raised right, telling reporters “Regarding not shaking his hand, I was lucky enough to have a mother and father who taught me about respect,” said Heinze. “If he felt that way, I would like to apologize to him. I congratulate him because he has done incredibly well in advancing to the next round. I wish him and his team the very best.”

It’s incredible, Heinze has been here for less than six months and has already dropped a “bless your heart” basically.

We’ll find out who the true fraud, true asshole, and true strawman is this weekend.

The zone of uncertainty

You’re going to read and hear a lot about both teams needing to rely on their depth in this game. That should tell you a lot of what to expect. This is MLS, depth falls into a shallow puddle after about 13 guys on the roster, it’s going to be a little messy. There’s a real tactical preview on this site you should read also, but I don’t care what anyone else says, the key to the game is going to be Atlanta stopping Jack Elliot. He’s the tallest guy on the field and somehow gets like 5 key passes a game. Keep him contained and things get a lot easier.

Other than that, if Atlanta does get the lead, they should focus on keeping it so that they can score more goals than the other team. The Five Stripes have just allowed one goal a game, partly thanks to Franco Ibarra sweeping the leg of every opposing team’s best player and Santiago Sosa using good technique and putting his head directly through the sternum of whoever he happens to be in the way of on breakaways, so that is promising. Just clean it up at the end of the game.

In conclusion, soccer is a land of contrasts.

** I would not put the CCL game in this category. It was a quarter final against an Atlanta United team that was still trying to put things together. As they’ll be underdogs, I also don’t think it can be asked about Philly in the CCL semis either.