From Independence Day to Independence Hall
After a tough finish midweek to a game that looked in the bag, Atlanta United could have been forgiven for a letdown this weekend. But that’s not in this team’s DNA. If you are the team next up on the schedule after an Atlanta United loss, be vewy, vewy afwaid. United just get mad when they lose and are quite happy to take their anger out on the next available victim. So much so that they have in fact only lost two games straight twice, and that not since June 10th last year when they lost to the Chicago Fire after losing to the Vancouver Whitecaps the previous week.
Thus the Philadelphia Union should have been trembling in their boots. Except that they of course had a point of their own to prove after the humiliating loss in the Benz a month ago when they went down 2 men early after Alejandro Bedoya’s dumb antics and Haris Medunjanin’s spectacular meltdown.
In fact, the Union put on a performance that belies their modest 8th spot in the Eastern Conference standings. They controlled much of the game, certainly in the first half, and ended up with a 5% possession edge and better passing accuracy in all areas of the field. They had two problems though. First was an utter inability to put the ball on frame. Of their 18 shots a mere 3 were on target. That compares with 16 and 8 for Atlanta, who yet again forced a strong goalkeeping performance, this time from Andre Blake, despite the penalty he gave up. Second was the ill-advised plan to put up two centerbacks neither of whom can legally drink for over a year yet against the most dangerous attack in the league. That’s right: Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie are both only 19 years old. That inexperience was very much on display in Tito Villalba’s golazo.
Quite often that’s what soccer comes down to: making the most of your chances. It was definitely the difference on Saturday in what was a generally entertaining contest. Combined with other results around the league, it thrust Atlanta back into complete control of the standings. Notably, FC Dallas apparently went on an extended bender after their miracle victory over Atlanta and impossibly managed to lose 2-0 to Real Salt Lake, and New York City FC eked out a rare 1-0 win against the New York Red Bulls. Currently Atlanta has:
- A 5-point lead at the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings
- A 6-point lead in the Eastern Conference
- A league-leading PPG of 2.00 (including the league’s best road PPG, also at 2.00)
- The best goal difference, a gaudy 19
Although Atlanta has also played at least 1 more game than anyone else except the Columbus Crew, currently only Dallas and the Red Bulls can pass United by taking maximum points from their games in hand and that only by 1 point. Throw in the fact that Atlanta now has the easiest remaining schedule in the league as well as the shortest, it looks like mirrored sunglasses time.
In a buoyant mood, then, here are the Dirty South Soccer Staff Player Ratings:
Man of the Match was a hard decision. Not only was that goal a team effort but the whole team, with few exceptions, played well whistle to whistle. In the end, I decided to award the honor to Miguel Almiron, who was crucially involved in both goals. Special Mentions go to Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, also critical to both goals, and to Tito Villalba for his rapidly improving play since returning to the starting lineup.
GK: Brad Guzan – 8. This was his 3rd consecutive 3-save performance, including two clean sheets. As noted above, Philly’s sparkling attack did not especially challenge big Brad.
LB: Mikey Ambrose – 6. Mikey struggled in this one, and Ilsinho gave him quite an education. He was taken out in the 73rd minute, but had accumulated a mere 36 touches and had won just 3 of the 6 tackles he attempted.
CB: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – 9. A very good game for LGP. His through ball to Miggy that freed him on the run that ended up in the penalty kick was glorious. His interception for the team goal was relatively routine, but key nonetheless. He also had 5 tackles, 5 interceptions, 3 clearances and 3 blocks. Oh, and he led the team in touches (73) and passes (53). That’s getting it done.
CB: Michael Parkhurst – 6.5. Generally a decent outing marred by a slightly silly yellow card. 5 clearances and 1 block. Second on the team in touches and passes.
RB: Franco Escobar –7. Where was this Escobar on Wednesday against Dallas? A completely different player. He didn’t press particularly hard (as often, Atlanta’s main press came from the left wing), but was active in defense and controlled the right side effectively.
LDM: Jeff Larentowicz – 7. A fairly quiet evening for Big Red, but solid as ever. He was content to sit back behind Julian Gressel as the defensive half of the double pivot and allow the Union to try and avoid coming up the middle by spending the entire game going wide right against Ambrose and McCann. Which despite Mikey’s rough game didn’t work.
RDM: Julian Gressel – 7. Another impressive jack-of-all-trades effort from Julian, although he was rudely snubbed by the rest of the team on Tito’s golazo. The man must be made of Play-Doh because he seems to fit wherever Tata puts him.
LM: Ezequiel Barco – 7. Pulled 2 minutes into stoppage and as such an unusually long game for the youngster. Not an outstanding game by any means, but he was definitely not lacking for effort. He remains one of the top three most fouled players in the league (3rd with 3.1 per game behind Nicolas Lodeiro and Magnus Eriksson).
CAM: Miguel Almiron – 9. Drew the foul for Josef’ PK, and made two excellent passes on the team goal, including the last one that the entire Union defense expected to be a shot. Other than that he was his normal almost unbeatable self. Game-high Audi Index of 998.
RM: Tito Villalba – 8. Like Barco, he played rather longer than most of his admittedly few recent starts, going 83 minutes. That presumably is an indication that he is getting back to full match fitness. His final touch on the goal may have been easy compared to some of the passes, but it should not be ignored that he snuck into the box completely unnoticed.
FWD: Josef Martinez – 8. Josef’s dance instructor is either a complete moron or a total genius. That bizarre PK run-up works every time though. Now on 18 goals for the season with a ridiculous 7-goal lead and scoring at a rate of 0.97 goals per 90 minutes. That’s actually down from his record pace last season, but still astronomically high. He also has 3 more goals than the entire Seattle Sounders team, the next opponent. Oh, and he continues to drop back and defend.
SUB: Chris McCann – 7. Replaced Ambrose and was an immediate upgrade. Forced Ilsinho into a mistake that led to the second goal just a couple of minutes after coming on. Remained pretty active thereafter.
SUB: Brandon Vazquez – 6. Came on for Tito as a rather unnecessary attacking sub. Touched the ball just 5 times.
SUB: Kevin Kratz – N/R. Brought on late to help close the game out and had absolutely nothing to do.
COACH: Tata Martino – 7. Tata’s squad didn’t exactly overpower Philadelphia, but the game plan clearly worked. An excellent end to a busy week.
ENGLAND: 7. The reason these ratings are so late this week – my motherland kept me on edge through Wednesday afternoon. They couldn’t bring it home, but it was still their best World Cup in 52 years. And I still think the US will win its first World Cup before England wins its second.