Atlanta United more or less cruised through the first half of this game. The team capitalized on 54.2% possession to outshoot the Montreal Impact 7-6 (although 5 of Montreal’s shots were from extreme long range outside the box). Looking very comfortable once again on the road, they took a 1-0 lead into the locker room on what was literally a laugher of a goal. What’s more, that lead could have been 3 or 4 goals.
Then we found ourselves in the position of having to find other entertainment for an hour. Eschewing Fox’s odd decision to show a Chapacoense documentary (educational but rather depressing in the middle of a game), I chose to watch the Columbus Crew nearly fail to protect a 3-goal lead courtesy of Jonathan Mensah scoring the second of his two goals in the game (his only MLS goals, but one for each team) and of Gyasi Zardes, whose appalling first touch makes it a real headscratcher that he has managed to score 13 times this season.
(Would it be churlish of me to note at this point that weather was not an issue for a certain major event Wednesday evening?)
Entertainment options aside, extended weather delays are mostly the pits because they completely disrupt the game in progress. Sitting around for an hour or so (watching that Columbus game maybe?) takes everyone out of their rhythm. If you’re down a goal, that’s maybe not a bad thing. If you’re leading, it could be a problem.
The Montreal Impact were completely unable to take advantage of that disruption. Having been thoroughly outplayed in the first half, they made little meaningful effort early in the second. The Five Stripes also seemed a little out of sync for the first few minutes but continued to dominate anyway and once they had their heads straight it was plain sailing until the second goal (also a laugher). After that, they took the foot off the gas.
That might have something to do with the fact that Montreal’s goalkeeper coach Joel Bats (standing in for the suspended Remi Garde) made the baffling decision to sub out the excellent Saphir Taider in the 65th minute. Taider had taken 4 of Montreal’s 6 first half shots, and all three that were on target. Having had a slight edge in possession to that point, Atlanta allowed Montreal 70% possession over the last 25 minutes, leading to an eventual Montreal possession edge of 11.6% for the entire game. Montreal also ended up outpassing Atlanta, both in numbers and accuracy, and especially in the final third.
But they did absolutely nothing with that advantage. Check the heatmap:
What’s the use of final third possession if you just cram it into a corner? In comparison, Atlanta’s incursion into the Montreal box was provided by a total of 8 different players, including Franco Escobar and Leonardo Gonzalez Pirez coming off the back line. Most of the activity at the top of the 6-yard box is of course Josef Martinez.
In the end, other than accepting a gift of a goal, the Impact did absolutely nothing of note in this game, and so the Atlanta Supporters’ Shield chase rolls on.
Indeed, in that chase Columbus did us a solid by beating the New York Red Bulls and Seattle followed it up the day after by winning a game. So both New York teams lost this weekend, pretty much eating up their games in hand. The Red Bulls and FC Dallas can both still pass Atlanta United with full points from their remaining games in hand, but the good guys remain top in points and points per game and still control their destiny.
And so, on to this week’s (admittedly very late) Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match was once again Josef Martinez. The man is nigh on unstoppable. Special Mention goes to Eric Remedi, who looked very well-established and not at all a newcomer to the team. Good things can be expected from him going forward.
GK: Brad Guzan – 8. 6 saves on the night, although at least three of them were routine. He was totally defenseless on Piatti’s goal, which made for a nervous last few minutes of the game.
LB: Chris McCann – 7. McCann was able to move aggressively forward in this game, and his passing on the left wing was solid. Defensively, he had 4 tackles, 5 interceptions and 3 clearances.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 7. Led the team in touches (79) and passes (63), and also took a shot. 1 tackle, 1 interception, 3 clearances and 2 blocks. A relatively relaxed evening for LGP.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 6.5. Not quite as relaxing a time as his centerback partner enjoyed, especially since he nearly had his ankle disintgrated. He looked OK in the All-Star Game though, which is good news. 2 tackles, 1 interception and a whopping 9 clearances. Loses a half point for the second half yellow card.
RB: Franco Escobar –5.5. I’m going to be really tough on Franco. By and large he gave a decent attacking and defensive performance. However, leaving Piatti wide open for the goal was a massive mistake, as was also incurring the early yellow card, which not only left him vulnerable for 67 minutes but also got him suspended for the Toronto FC game. Overall, his play has been erratic to date, which is a concern.
LDM: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. Sitting behind remedy and opposing a toothless Montreal attack up the middle, Jeff was not under any meaningful pressure in this game. That being said, he notched 7 tackles and 1 interception, and also got his contractually obligated long-range shot in.
RDM: Eric Remedi – 8. Remedi went the full 90 in his second Atlanta game, and impressed. On the defensive side he had a massive 9 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 clearances and 2 blocks. In attack, he had 45 passes with 86.7% accuracy. He looked totally in sync with his new team and very confident on the ball.
LM: Tito Villalba – 7. A strange game for Tito. He started on the left, a first for him in Atlanta I believe, but he has been known to scorch defenders with shots from that side after all. He then switched briefly to the right, only to switch back again when that didn’t seem to be working out. Not a clue what Tata saw to make that attempted shift, but reversing it led to Tito’s assist on Josef’s first goal. Left the game in stoppage time.
CAM: Miguel Almiron – 7. Miggy drifted significantly to the left in this game, looking like he was playing in support of Tito. He was credited with the secondary assist on the first goal, and was probably a bit closer to his normal self than we have seen over past few games.
RM: Julian Gressel – 7. Julian had three shots on target and all three forced Evan Bush into making saves. Despite that, much of his play was of the defensive side of the ball. Not a spectacular outing by any means, but workmanlike as ever.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 9. Loses a point for laughing too much. But his scoring rate is already ridiculous enough that he doesn’t need any help like he got Saturday from the Impact. As of right now, he is looking at the following records:
Single-season scoring record (currently 27; Josef on 24)
Single-season hat-trick record (currently 3, with Josef on 3 for the second time)
Fastest to 50 goals (currently 67 games; Josef has 43 goals in 43 games)
Scoring streak (currently 8; Josef on 6)
SUB: Brandon Vazquez – 6. Replaced Josef in the 84th minute. Didn’t really have a great deal to do as the game looked well in hand at that point.
SUB: Kevin Kratz – N/R. Came on with just 2 minutes of stoppage time left. He had one successful tackle right after coming on but otherwise was not a factor.
COACH: Tata Martino – 8. Another craftily managed game, although his counterpart for the evening was not really up to the task.
WEATHER: 0. In case I haven’t made myself clear, extended weather delays are the pits.