The Controversy with Kansas

It sounds like the opening line to a Rom-Com or a poor follow up title to the already poor Hangover Pt. 3. But if you’re an Atlanta United fan, it sounds like Wednesday’s match against Sporting Kansas City in a nutshell.

“Let’s not talk about last night.”

 

Well, last night was Josef’s early goal (ruled offsides), Guzan’s red card, questionable no calls and lots of controversy under one roof.

 

Possibly having their most offensive lineup of the season so far (Villalba, Almiron, Barco, and Martinez all started), ATL UTD began the match against Kansas with electrifying, offensive energy. Through this charged up start, Almiron orchestrated a great play to find Barco, who selfishlessly served it to Martinez for what seemed to be a goal in just minute 6 of the match.

However, Martinez was ruled offsides and after Video Review, the goal was nullified, leaving the two best teams in the MLS level again.

But even through the Video Review let-down, the fans in Mercedes-Benz were louder than before and Atlanta United found the strength to keep on the offensive. Atlanta continued on with their killer pace and had a handful of shots on goal mostly coming from Hector Villalba, calling Tim Melia (Kansas’ Goalkeeper) to action multiple times.

Later in the half, the only red card of the game was given to Brad Guzan, who was sent off after a hard tackle only a couple of feet outside of the penalty box area to SKC’s (Sporting Kansas City) Khiry Shelton.

 

It’s understandable for Guzan to do what he did.

Any keeper in his shoes that’s 1 on 1 with a winger would do the same in order to prevent the other team from scoring, which he did for the time being. This caused Tata Martino to make a quick decision and call Villalba, who was having a fantastic night, back to the bench, and put in Paul Christensen to fill the gloves of Brad Guzan.

With SKC attacking now more than ever, the pressure of the red card and playing with a man down seemed to be mounting on Atlanta United. Atlanta was able to get quick counter runs but were still missing that extra pair of feet to get it in the back of the net. Not to mention, some of the calls and none calls by the referee were surprising and lacked consistency throughout the match, which was frustrating for both sides.

As time wound down and the referee signaled for half time, I was able to speak with Dutch former footballer and Juventus legend Edgar Davids, who was in town for a day, months prior to the MLS All-Star game. The MLS All-Stars will be matching up against Davids’ former club team, Juventus, and will be coming to Atlanta, August 1st. I asked Davids on his thoughts about Atlanta United and his insight on the match so far and here’s what he had to say:

“United is doing well. You see that they play with a certain tactic and it’s too bad that they are already down 1 man but they are still in the game. Kansas play the ball slow and you can’t get the over hand like that if you are playing with 1 man more. It’s very easy for United to solve the problem and just get a counter-attack. “

There are many things that can be disputed about Wednesday night’s match, but we still had very good takeaways from the players in the starting lineup:

 

Gonzalez-Pirez is the MOTM

Gonzalez-Pirez won the Man of the Match and with great reason. Pirez was able to cut off multiple attacking runs that Sporting KC attempted all throughout the first half of the game and most of the second half. In the last minutes of the game, Gonzalez-Pirez was even able to cut between two defenders nearing the opposition’s upper third of the field. By doing so, he was able to bait a foul in a dangerous spot for Kevin Kratz to take, Atlanta’s free-kick specialist. Unfortunately, unlike the 2 goals Kratz sank against Montreal from the same set piece, both of Kratz’ free-kick attempts were saved by SKC’s Tim Melia, who had a phenomenal showing yesterday.

As tenacious as Pirez was, Daniel Salloi was able to find the back of the Atlanta net in minute 67 by shooting a curved ball outside of the penalty area, barely missing Christensen’s fingertips and making the score 1-0. Following that, Gerso Fernandes was able to make it 2-0 for SKC in minute 87, receiving a through ball in the wide area of the pitch. The score would remain the same, ending Atlanta’s undefeated streak.

Christensen’s MLS debut

Due to both of the Atlanta alternate keepers being injured (Kann, Hilderbrandt), Christensen was recently called up from ATL UTD 2  to Atlanta’s first team. Paul Christensen made some solid saves at the start of the second half and, with experience, he could compete for a spot in the first team. This match was not the clean sheet he might have been hoping for in his debut, but it was a difficult test of his talents and he did all he could (without getting a red card).

Barco’s Game

Another Atlanta United player with an outstanding performance was the $15 million dollar man himself, Ezequiel Barco! If the Chicago Fire match, where Barco scored his 1st goal, was any indication of how elevated his game is, then Wednesday’s performance against SKC was the cold, hard facts. From cross-overs, ball movement and vision, to keeping up with the pace of the front line helmed by Almiron, Barco was in his element and it’s evident that the team chemistry is developing quickly. Ezequiel Barco played a full 90 minutes and even found the time to take a couple of shots at the goal himself. The 19 -year-old Argentine can do it all and holds an exciting future with Atlanta United!

While there were multiple times in this match when things didn’t go our way, Atlanta United looked very stable for most of the game and were able to stay defensively sound for a team playing with a disadvantage. Even if the score doesn’t reflect it, Atlanta United fought the full 90. We’ll take this experience and use it for the next match against Orlando City at Orlando and make the goals taste that much sweeter!

Arturo Principe | @ArturoPrincipe1

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