5 Five Stripes Thoughts: Shield within reach after historic comeback win

Mike Conti
September 20, 2018 - 4:20 pm
Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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It’s time to bust out an old, tired sports cliche: “Championship teams find ways to win when they play at their worst.”

Since I’m struggling to come up with superlatives after a delirious second half comeback in San Jose Wednesday night, I’ll just lean on the cliche. Atlanta United probably didn’t deserve the victory; and yet, maybe they did? The Five Stripes were at times disorganized and imperfect, but they never panicked, even after it appeared they were down 4-1 with less than a half hour to play. For those who stayed awake to watch it, their 4-3 victory over hapless San Jose may be their best of the season.

Here are my five thoughts on a wild Wednesday night:

1. This match may have won the Supporters’ Shield. By going four points clear of New York Red Bulls with five games to play, including one at Red Bull Arena, Atlanta United can clinch their first ever trophy in as few as two and a half weeks with three straight wins and a little bit of help. Winning at San Jose gives Atlanta United a cushion to approach their September 30 match at Red Bull Arena as a playoff game, where securing a road draw is a perfectly acceptable result. Even a draw Wednesday at San Jose would have put Red Bulls in the driver’s seat. The Shield is there for the taking for Atlanta United. A loss to the Earthquakes would possibly have spoiled those dreams.

2. Josef Martinez punches another item off his checklist. Thirty goals in 29 matches is stupefying. Three hat tricks in one season is amazing. But until Wednesday night, Josef (nor any other member of the club) were without a claim to a stoppage time game winner. Miguel Almiron’s service out of the near corner was spot on perfect. When Miguel served it, I know immediately that if it found Josef’s head, it was 100 percent sure to go in. With matches remaining against poor-defending clubs like Chicago and Salt Lake, Josef’s quest for 35+ goals continues.

3. If not for Tito, this match could have been ugly. Villalba’s rocket in first half stoppage time is among the leaders for Atlanta United goal of the year, but it also gave the Five Stripes a pulse after going down 2-0 in 44 minutes. This is the first time ever that Atlanta United overcame a two goal deficit to win; and, I have to think Tito’s strike and the subsequent inclusion of Ezequiel Barco gave the club the jolt of energy they needed right after halftime.

4. Matches like these are why VAR exists. Referee Fotis Bazakos was (apparently) out of position to spot a clear handball by Magnus Eriksson in the San Jose penalty area. That hand ball triggered a break that created a (possibly offside) goal by Chris Wondolowski, a goal that made it 4-1 to San Jose. I have heard this referred to as the “nightmare scenario” where a goal is taken away for a incident that came 75 yards away from where the goal was scored. Sorry, but I think the “nightmare scenario” is having a goal go up when the build-up to it was fraudulent. It’s also a nightmare scenario when the center referee cannot spot a clear and obvious hand ball in real time. The Univision announcers who kept crying about the incident coming “one minute and forty seconds before” the goal were laughably inaccurate. A look at their own scorebug shows it took about 30 seconds. And the review itself was also prompt. VAR was used twice on Wednesday, with each club benefiting from its ruling with a goal.

5. That said, I have no idea what happened on the Almiron goal. All I can say is that Almiron had the tremendous foresight to continue playing after Bazakos appeared to signal for a penalty. San Jose stopped playing, and Almiron chipped the ball in for an easy goal. The only explanation is that Bazakos was playing advantage to Atlanta United and did not blow his whistle. But he emphatically ran and pointed to the spot as play continued. It likely would have produced a goal either way, but if I was San Jose, I would still be furious at that sequence.