Atlanta United settled for a draw against defending champions Toronto FC in front of a subdued home crowd. Here are three things we learned from the 2-2 tie.
Atlanta United played Toronto FC to a disappointing home draw. Atlanta is still top in the league, the Supporters’ Shield standings, points-per-game, goals scored, and goal differential. However, every time the team drops points at home, the fans come away somewhat disappointed.
Saturday was no different. And this time, it was the way by which Atlanta dropped points that will continue to haunt the players and their fans.
Atlanta conceded two goals in the match, with both goals coming in stoppage time of the first and second halves respectively. Any soccer player will tell you how frustrating it is to concede a goal in stoppage time. This is the sixth time this season Atlanta has dropped points after holding a lead, and if the team can’t figure out how to close matches, their season may end earlier than anticipated.
The overall quality of the match was good. Toronto is beginning to look like the team that dominated North America last year. Both teams played well throughout the match, and the teams were evenly matched. Frustrations boiled over by the end, with Toronto’s Chris Mavinga throwing a punch at Atlanta’s Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez. Mavinga was given a straight red, but the incident occurred right as the final whistle blew and had no bearing on the match. These teams will meet again on Decision Day and might meet again in the playoffs as well.
Let’s see what we learned from an intense Saturday afternoon.
3. Atlanta is not fielding its first choice squad
I attended Saturday’s match in Atlanta On my way home I overheard some other fans discussing the game. One of them said, “and we’re missing four or five starters too.” This phrase shocked me because I realized it’s true.
Just look at Atlanta’s first-choice starting line up (4-2-3-1, left to right): Brad Guzan (GK), Greg Garza, Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez, Michael Parkhurst, Franco Escobar, Eric Remedi, Darlington Nagbe, Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba, Josef Martinez.
Here’s how the team lined up on Saturday (3-5-2): Guzan (GK), Gonzalez-Pirez, Parkhurst, Jeff Larentowicz, Chris McCann, Remedi, Almiron, Kevin Kratz, Julian Gressel, Villalba, Martinez.
First of all, Atlanta played a formation that isn’t their first choice. They have played in a 3-5-2 for a significant amount of games this season, but it is not Tata Martino’s preferred option. Second of all, there are four players listed from Saturday’s starting XI that wouldn’t even make the preferred starting XI. This isn’t because of the formation choice so much as it’s because of injuries and suspensions.
Escobar missed Saturday’s match because of yellow card accumulation. His normal back up would be Sal Zizzo, but Zizzo recently had surgery and is out for the remainder of the season. McCann could’ve played the position, but his back up would be Mikey Ambrose, who is dealing with a knee injury. This forced Martino to play the 3-5-2 with Larentowicz in the back three instead of defensive midfield. These are already enough problems, but add in Nagbe and Garza’s lengthy injuries and you’ve got all sorts of depth and formation issues.
Atlanta has the depth to withstand these issues, for now, but until these players return to match fitness, the Five Stripes may continue to move their pieces and formation around from week to week.