Didn’t we watch this game on Saturday already? In many respects, this match was very much like the outing against the Montreal Impact. The Philadelphia Union were not quite as toothless, managing a total of 9 shots as compared with Montreal’s 3, although only 3 of those were on target. Atlanta United ran the ball down both opponents’ throats in the first half, and basically cruised through the second half. Which is to say, they didn’t press quite as hard. Atlanta doesn’t really cruise. Cruising is boring. Boring is for…well, pretty much everyone else in MLS, truth be told. Once again, the scoreline was kept from being utterly humiliating by a heroic effort from a goalkeeper, this time Andre Blake, who was forced into 7 saves. The Union can thank British immigration law they still have him.
So, Uncle Arthur got a nice birthday present from his newest nephews. I think we have noted that United are in the playoffs, yes? We now join an elite group of expansion teams, the 1998 Chicago Fire and Miami Fusion, and the 2009 Seattle Sounders, by achieving that.
To compare, Atlanta has 52 points from 30 games, with 4 remaining. Chicago breezed into the playoffs, getting 56 points from 32 games. Miami squeaked into the playoffs with a lousy 35 points from 32 games. Note, however, that back then 8 of the 12 teams in the league made the playoffs and that 1998 was the shootout era. Seattle finished with 47 points from 30 games, clinching a playoff spot with just 2 games remaining. Of the three, only Chicago won more games (20, including 2 shootout wins) than Atlanta’s 15 so far. Seattle won just 12, Miami 15 (5 shootout wins). Also, Atlanta has scored 66 goals and allowed 35 for a gaudy goal differential of 31. Seattle managed a GD of 9 (38/29), Chicago 17 (62/45) and Miami an unbelievable -22 (46/68). So Atlanta has already scored more than any of those teams, and allowed more only than Seattle. Given the development of the league over the past few years, Atlanta’s are clearly the more impressive achievements. So suck it, Bob Bradley.
No broad-based heatmap for this game (there’ll be one later; gotta get my fix). Instead, let’s jump into the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match honors were pretty easy. Rookie of the Year in waiting Julian Gressel gets them for his game-winning goal and assist. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez gets a Special Mention, in large part for his assist on Gressel’s goal, which was a thing of true beauty. I’m also going to give a Special Mention to Chris McCann, who has not gotten lot of love from these parts so far his season. More on him below.
GK: Brad Guzan – 8. Rumor has it his water bottle contains 5-Hour Energy. If not, how does he stay awake back there? In the end, he made 3 great saves, all of them diving stops, including a magnificent one to end the game and preserve the clean sheet. Seemed to spend as much time out of the box as in it, doing a very good Manuel Neuer impersonation.
RB: Anton Walkes – 6. Not as good a showing as the past two games, with a number of unsuccessful crosses and attacking half passes. He also got beat on 4 of 7 challenges. None of this really had any negative impact on the game, though.
CB: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. Jeff shifted into a full stint on the back line, giving Michael Parkhurst a probably much-needed rest. Jeff has of course fallen back into a central defending role whenever needed, so this was hardly a change for him. Tattoo artists in the Atlanta area were not happy he was taken out of the attack.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 8. LGP, as is the norm, led the team with 94 touches and 85 passes, not to mention providing the assist on Gressel’s goal.
LB/LW: Chris McCann – 8. McCann continued his fill-in role for Greg Garza at left back, but was asked to flip into a more attacking role when Garza came on in the 68th minute, replacing not McCann but Yamil Asad. McCann took over for Asad. He did pretty well in both roles, and generated a somewhat unusual-looking heatmap:
A crafty move from Tata, and it worked out pretty well.
CM: Kevin Kratz – 7. Kratz was my choice to start in Miguel Almiron’s place, but wiser heads saw something else, which worked out very well. Kevin did well on the defensive side, and provided a non-assist on Josef Martinez’s goal by letting Gressel’s pass go through his legs unimpeded. That’s becoming something of an Atlanta specialty.
CM: Carlos Carmona – 8. Wednesday was a more defensive-minded display from C-Squared. Still, he was just as imperious in the midfield as he usually is.
CAM: Julian Gressel – 9. Julian is now 1 assist from tying the MLS rookie record of 10, set by the legendary Clint Mathis in 1998 (man, that year keeps cropping up. It’s as if nothing happened in MLS for 18 years. Well, nothing interesting, obviously). Needs to work on his golf swing, though. Someone call Bernhard Langer. And why the hell is he not on the 24Under24 list?
LW: Yamil Asad – 8. Yamil played only 68 minutes, but as is his wont, was a buzzsaw cutting through opponents. His energy is always turned all the way up, which is probably why he wears the 11 jersey.
RW: Tito Villalba – 8. No golazo for Tito this game, but he did assist on Jacob Peterson’s nightcap. He actually led all players on the Audi Index, albeit with a relatively low 750 points. Had three shots on goal and was generally a menace.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. 17 games, 18 goals. Goals per 90: 1.26. Given a yellow card by Mark Geiger; how dare he! And of course he paid tribute to the missing Almiron after his goal in what was clearly a planned gesture. Kudos, by the way, to Alan Green, who immediately guessed he was doing something of that kind.
SUB: Greg Garza – 7. Good to see Greg back. The game was of course well in hand when he came on, but he looked none the worse for wear. Will the same be true for Miggy?
SUB: Kenwyne Jones – 7. Replaced Josef after 82 minutes. Made his presence felt in a well-executed clean-up role.
SUB: Jacob Peterson – 8. The Answer has played a total of 148 minutes, scoring 3 goals off 3 attempts. He wasn’t really needed Wednesday, but having that dependable late-game threat could be a huge factor in the playoffs.
COACH: Tata Martino – 9. Tinkered with the lineup big time to compensate for Miggy’s absence and it worked to perfection.
HALF-TIME INTERVIEWEE: Aron Hyde – 10. How have I not mentioned Aron before now? Apart from being a stand-out goalkeeping coach (can you believe the Chicago Fire canned him two years ago?), hearing what he has to say at half-time is pure gold. Gets bonus points for his British accent.
Now: go vote in my Twitter poll, which is open until 1am Saturday. Read my timeline for an explanation. This is a matter of crucial concern.
Here goes. Yes, I know there are 6, but Twitter polls only allow 4 choices; to vote for Speakerboxx or Idlewild, tweet them:— John Fuller (@JohnKFuller) September 29, 2017
And lastly, go donate to The Fugees.