So now all of MLS knows how to win away games at Mercedes-Benz: drag the Atlanta keeper out of the box and get him a red card. But only do it when all other rostered keepers are injured. It happened against Minnesota last season and it happened again Wednesday evening. So expect Atlanta to be really active in the goalkeeper market in the next transfer window. I hear Gianluigi Buffon is available.
Despite that little hiccup, and the offside controversy, this game was still the clash of titans we all anticipated. And despite playing against the power play (MLS requires us to use hockey terminology) for 56 minutes, Atlanta United still managed to put on quite an offensive show. SKC only outshot the Five Stripes 18-17 and shots on goal were 8-3 in our favor. 8 of Atlanta’s shots were after the red card. Which also means we had already pumped in 9 shots (not including the disallowed goal) in the first 34 minutes.
But yet again an opposing goalkeeper put on an heroic performance against us. Tim Melia, reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year (and justifiably so) made 8 saves on the night and was easily the best player on the filed. Melia is 31 and has a total of 0 USMNT caps, and that’s a scandal in my humble opinion.
Tactically, I’m not sure what to say about this one, although atlanta definitely had chances to win this game. And the heatmap is just plain weird:
What is that hole in the midfield? With Tito Villalba being pulled for the red card keeper replacement I can understand the clear tilt to the left flank, but that gap has me stumped.
I’ve already riled all y’all up over the offside, so let’s move quickly on to the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match is often a tough choice in games like this, but not this time. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez had an excellent game on Wednesday and deservedly gets the nod. Special Mention goes to Paul Christensen for stepping up to the plate in a game he probably never expected to play in. I can’t think of a higher pressure location or situation for a keeper to make his MLS debut. A second Special Mention to Miguel Almiron for doing his damnedest to make something happen.
GK: Brad Guzan – 3. Brad was riding on 34 minutes of no saves when he made the catastrophic decision to come way off his line at Khiry Shelton. The official reason for the red card was a DOGSO, but it could just as easily have been serious foul play. He may be lucky to escape additional punishment over the obligatory one-game suspension.
LB: Greg Garza – 7. I anticipated Greg would be given a rest for this game, continuing a stellar record at predictions. He had a fairly good game overall, and was responsible for a meaningful portion of the left side attack in the heatmap. He also chalked up 5 interceptions and 3 clearances.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 9. LGP’s best game so far this season, and it’s not even close. He had 12 tackles on the night; the rest of the team combined for 17. Even better, he was able to do that without picking up that dreaded 5th yellow.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 8. Another defensive stalwart, Parky spent a lot of time drifting right, and in so doing recorded 2 tackles, 4 interceptions and 7 clearances.
RB: Sal Zizzo –7. Probably a surprise selection for most fans, Sal did a workmanlike job overall. He did not advance forward as Tata expects of a fullback, but circumstances probably prevented that. 3 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 clearances.
LDM: Jeff Larentowicz – 6.5. Larry did a lot of roaming on Wednesday. On most teams playing down a man he would have been expected to provide defensive support, but this is Atlanta and Tata has a very attacking philosophy. However, he wasn’t able to create much. Loses half a point for the yellow card a fairly rough challenge. Pulled in the 76th minute as Tata rolled the dice.
RDM: Darlington Nagbe – 6. Darlington’s movement around the field was similar to Jeff’s, but slightly more advanced. He wasn’t very successful with it, though, with only 53 touches and 46 passes, well off the team leads.
LM: Ezequiel Barco – 7. Provided the inadvertent service on Josef’s goal-that-wasn’t. Zeke continues to play a lot like Miggy did last season, even down to maybe not pulling the trigger and shooting enough. He is also developing a signature move in which he swings in from the wing to a more central position; defenses may eventually latch on to that.
CAM: Miguel Almiron – 8. 88 touches, 64 passes, 10 dribbles, 3 tackles, 4 shots. And unlike the Chicago game, his heatmap was heavily upfield in a constant pressing position. Miggy being Miggy.
RM: Tito Villalba – 7. Tito was the sacrifice substitution on the red card, which sa a shame, since this was his forst start in a while, and he looked threatening in it. He was the intended target on the offside goal, and had been in a nearly identical position on a Miggy charge just moments earlier. And in just 34 minutes he managed 2 shots.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 7. I am not, I repeat not, going to criticize a striker for lurking around in an offside position. He’s supposed to do that; the key is knowing when to get onside or when to use yourself as a defense magnet. Mostly he does it to perfection. However, in this game he was not as much help on the defensive side of the ball as he has been of late. Came out after 76 minutes.
SUB: Paul Christensen – 6. I know I gave him a Special Mention, and I also know that seems at odds with a 6 rating. But the only tougher situation for a goalkeeper to come into a game is on a penalty kick. And Christensen likely never expected to see the field, and now he is the likely starter on Sunday. However, he freely admitted after the game that he should have been quicker off the mark on Salloi’s goal, but also explained that MLS attackers are faster than the USL strikers he has been seeing. Expect Aron Hyde and probably Brad Guzan as well to have been working with him to prep for Orlando.
SUB: Kevin Kratz – 7. Replaced Larry in the 76th minute in a rare double switch for Tata. Played well, and probably his first free kick would have gotten past almost any other keeper. The second one wasn’t placed quite as accurately though.
SUB: Romario Williams – 7. Nearly got on top of the rebound on Kratz’s first free kick, but it would have been a tough angle to score from. Provided the needed fresh legs in a late all-out attack plan, but it didn’t quite pan out.
COACH: Tata Martino – 8. Kudos to Tata for not waving the white flag. Going for the W down a man against a team as strong as SKC was a gutsy call that almost no other manager in MLS would have made.
COMMENTARY: Dan Gargan – 8. Props to Dan for his on-the-spot analysis of the offside. Plenty of other color guys wouldn’t even know the intricacies of the law.