So close, yet so far away
4 minutes 59 seconds. That’s all they needed. After a half season of consistently building leads and parking the bus to protect them, all that separated Atlanta United from a win over the hated New York Red Bulls was less than 5 minutes. But 2 minutes and 3 seconds is apparently not enough to get the bus into the parking space, because that’s all it took for Bradley Wright-Phillips to tie the game back up.
I can think of three reasons why the game didn’t go as well as it should have. They are, in no particular order:
In the 29 minutes he was on the field, Pogba had been playing well. Far better than he did on Wednesday night against the Chicago Fire, for sure. And then he fell prey to the MBS hamstring curse. Barco’s continued absence due to injury also deprived the team of its talisman player this season. And LGP being forced out of the lineup for a very iffy DOGSOH call had already reduced Frank de Boer’s options on the back line before Pogba’s hammy went pop.
As it happens, my return flight from Europe last Wednesday was scheduled such that by the time I got out of the airport and into decent cell signal range, the first thing I saw of that nightmare game was Petrescu trotting over to the VAR monitor.
For this game, the Real-team-in-red-and-black Stripes adopted a very counter-attacking strategy. For the most part, this worked well, and came frustratingly close to success. But for complete success, you need a back line that is working at full capacity. Again, for the most part that was the case, despite the personnel issues. But there were three blunders that killed the chance of victory.
The first was on Mikey Ambrose, who got owned by Marc Rzatkowski on what was perhaps a not entirely well-chosen clearance option by Bard Guzan. The second was on Ambrose, Michael Parkhurst and Miles Robinson, who all apparently went to sleep on Brian White’s goal, which started with a very weak free kick call against Eric Remedi. And the third was on Robinson and Franco Escobar, who allowed Wright-Phillips to get between them virtually unnoticed.
Of such moments games are made. Anyway, to highlight just how defensive Atlanta’s strategy was, consider the heatmap:
45% of the game was played in the middle third, although you might not think that from New York’s side of the heatmap. Apparently the only time they went through the center circle was for the 4 kickoffs they took in the game. A further 33% was played in Atlanta’s defensive third.
Another look, this time at the player positions:
Atlanta is on the left. Organized in a clear 4-2-3-1, but very compressed, and also relatively withdrawn. New York were also in a 4-2-3-1, but their lack of organization indicates that Atlanta were largely keeping them at bay.
However, 53% of Atlanta’s passes were in the attacking half and 25% in the attacking third. With relatively high accuracy at that. And Atlanta had 54% possession. Those indicate that Atlanta was able to absorb the pressure and break out quickly. By and large, it was a bend-but-don’t break approach. Unfortunately, on three occasions they broke. Like dry twigs.
The good news from this past week is that Atlanta remains in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference standings, 6 points off the lead with 2 games in hand still. But keep an eye on New York City FC, who have 2 games in hand on Atlanta and trail by just 1 point. Both games against NYCFC are later this season and could loom very large.
With that in mind, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match was Josef Martinez for his 2-goal effort. Justin Meram gets the Special Mention for game-opening goal and for generally demonstrating over the past few games why Orlando and Columbus were dumb to ignore him.
GK: Brad Guzan – 6. 3 good saves in the game, but that pass to Ambrose was poorly chosen.
LB: Mikey Ambrose – 4. This was Mikey’s first start since March 30th, and it did not go well. Still, 3 tackles, 1 interception, 2 clearances and1 block. His passing was way off though, with just 63.6% accuracy.
CB: Florentin Pogba – 7. In 29 minutes he had 1 tackle and 1 interception, and looked solid. Except for his jelly hamstring, that is.
CB: Miles Robinson – 6. Was involved in 2 of New York’s goals, but other than those big errors he was his usual self. 2 interceptions and a whopping 9 clearances.
RB: Franco Escobar – 5.5. 2 tackles, 1 interceptions and 4 clearances. A measly 35 passes, albeit with 77.1% accuracy, and a yellow card for dissent.
LDM: Darlington Nagbe – 6. Darlington looked strong, but was actually playing in a more defensive role than usual, flipping responsibilities with Eric Remedi. He had 1 tackle, 2 interceptions and 2 clearances. Offensively, just 44 passes, way below his norm, with 84.1% accuracy, also subpar.
RDM: Eric Remedi – 6. Despite playing more advanced than usual, Eric had just 30 passes with 80% accuracy. Not good enough. Left the game after 74 minutes.
LM: Justin Meram – 8. Justin has quickly proven his value and could be the steal acquisition of the season. He also looks to be thoroughly enjoying himself.
CAM: Pity Martinez – 5. Pity played 63 minutes in which he managed 2 off-target shots and 27 passes for 66.7% accuracy. Granted, this was a defensively-driven game, but still.
RM: Julian Gressel – 5. Julian was not much better than Pity, if at all. 1 shot off frame, and just 24 passes for 66.7% accuracy in a full 90 minutes. Way below standard, and he looked frustrated doing it too.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. Pretty much the Josef of 2018. And I’m going to completely ignore the yellow for removing his shirt, because it’s a dumb rule.
SUB: Michael Parkhurst – 6. Caught dozing on the second New York goal, but otherwise not bad considering he had to come into the game cold. 1 tackle, 1 interception and 6 clearances.
SUB: Brandon Vazquez – 5. Replaced Pity and did pretty much nothing in 27 official minutes.
SUB: Jeff Larentowicz – 6. Didn’t really impose himself in the game. He left that for afterwards. Jeff is 6’1”. Cristian Casseres Jr. is 5’9”. No contest. I’m guessing he watched the Masvidal-Askren fight Saturday night.
COACH: Frank de Boer – 6. Starting Mikey Ambrose was an error. Probably thinking to rest Parky, which didn’t exactly work out as planned, through no fault of his own. Otherwise a good game plan.
ALICE PARKER – 10. Nailed it.