5 Five Stripes Thoughts: Atlanta United solves the DC United puzzle

Mike Conti
March 12, 2018 - 10:21 am
Miguel Almiron

© Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

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Atlanta United could not have asked for anything more out of Sunday.  An MLS-record 72,035 fans packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium.  A world-wide television and radio audience bore witness to the spectacle of a big soccer match in Atlanta.  And to top it all off, the club cruised to a 3-1 victory over D.C. United in a match where it never felt like Atlanta United was in any danger of losing.  

Indeed, Atlanta United has finally solved the D.C. United albatross.  It’s the first time they’ve beaten their rivals from the Nation’s capital in four attempts.  

Here are my five thoughts on the match:

1. That’s the Atlanta United we all expected.  Over three matches in the exhibition and regular seasons, Atlanta United scored only two goals in 270 minutes against MLS opposition.  They matched that total in the span of 50 minutes on Sunday.  Aside from a sloppy mistake in the 86th minute that ruined a clean sheet for Brad Guzan, it’s impossible to pick out anything Atlanta United did wrong on Sunday.  The execution in the attacking third was the best it has been since the team gathered for training camp.  Miguel Almiron’s Golazzo in the 73rd minute should be the MLS goal of the week.  And with Atlanta United dominating possession to the tune of 59 percent in the first half, D.C. United had to feel they were playing uphill the entire game.

2. Julian Gressel may have played his best MLS match.  He showed the form that earned him MLS Rookie of the Year honors in 2017, and his beautiful touch over to Almiron set up the cracking goal in the 73rd minute that broke D.C. United’s back.  If Gressel can string together a few matches like these, Tata Martino will face an interesting dilemma on how to keep Gressel in the XI once Ezequiel Barco returns.

3. A tip of the cap to Michael Parkhurst.  He proved his fitness by playing a full 90 minutes in the final exhibition match against Charleston Battery.  After coming on as a substitute last Saturday in Houston, it became clear that he was the steady presence at center back that Atlanta United really needed.  On Sunday, it felt like there were several occasions where Parkhurst cleanly tackled away a developing scoring opportunity.  The veteran played an outstanding match on Sunday, a performance that may be overshadowed because of the nifty play up top by Almiron, Tito Villalba and Josef Martinez.

4. I need help with VAR.  When Greg Garza took down Paul Arriola in the 50th minute, I was mildly surprised to see referee Robert Sibiga call for VAR.  According to the Laws of the Game, VAR is only to be used to identify goals that were not called in the run of play, penalties, mistaken identity in the awarding of red and yellow cards, and, most relevantly here, red-card decisions.  Why then did Sibiga look at the monitor, run to the spot of contact, and show Garza a yellow?  First off, the foul was dubious at best.  Multiple replay angles showed Garza was not only playing the ball, but touched the ball before he even made contact with Arriola.  If VAR is followed to the letter of the law, the only possible outcomes of the review (as I understand it) are either no foul or a straight red card.  Here’s where I will admit that I am a relative newcomer to MLS and I’m still learning the laws.  But I believe MLS would be well served to follow the lead of the NBA:  When a play is subject to video review, have the league tweet out an explanation of the outcome.  It would help the fans (and the broadcasters) a great deal.

5. A capacity crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for a big match is as electric as anything in Atlanta professional sports.  D.C. United had no chance once Almiron made it 2-0.  The tidal wave of noise was comparable to anything I’ve heard at a big Falcons game.  The atmosphere inside the Benz was electric; and, based on social media reaction, it seems that the world has noticed.  So the 17’s deserve a big pat on the back for a job well done on Sunday.  And the club they support deserves a nod, too, for giving them a lot to cheer for.