Some final thoughts about Atlanta United’s trip to play Herediano in Costa Rica in the CONCACAF Champions League, with one final story about my travel and an anecdote about the dangers of trimming shrubs.
1. Either club could argue that the 3-1 margin was a bit deceiving. Herediano could argue that, on another day, it should have scored at least five goals. Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan made at least two massive saves and centerback Miles Robinson, who I thought was sharp most of the game, saved another goal with a last-second clearance.
Atlanta United could argue that, on another day, it should have scored at least four goals. In addition to the goal by Julian Gressel, another was called back when Jeff Larentowicz and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez played hot potato on the line, resulting in a goal being called back, Josef Martinez may never again miss the header he put wide in the second half, and Darlington Nagbe came extremely close to opening his Atlanta United account with a wonderful curling shot that forced an even better save in the second half.
2. Atlanta United can also argue that each of Herediano’s goals were the result of individual breakdowns, which can be fixed. The first goal started with a poor chest pass by George Bello and continued with a weak header by Gonzalez Pirez.
Manager Frank de Boer said those things happen.
The second goal occurred when no one slid over to fill in the middle of the field when Robinson and Gonzalez Pirez both moved to the left to try and trap a Herediano player.
The third goal came from a free kick in which Gressel was beaten to the back post.
To be fair, Herediano could argue that Gressel’s goal was the result of a deflection. (There’s no video of the goal.)
3. What does all that mean? That Atlanta United’s 3-1 deficit isn’t as massive as it may seem in terms of advancing to the quarterfinals. The Five Stripes need only to win 2-0 to advance or least 3-1 to stay alive and go to penalty kicks. Atlanta United posted 12 shutouts across all competitions last season. It scored at least two goals 27 times last season.
De Boer and Gressel were quick to remind after the game that Herediano defeated Club America 3-0 in Heredia in last year’s tournament, only to get pummeled 6-0 in the return leg. That game was at the 87,000-seat Estadio Azteca, which isn’t going to be confused with the 10,500-seat Fifth Third Bank Stadium, other than to say both feature stadium stuff inside them.
4. What can de Boer do to increase the probability of Atlanta United scoring at least two goals? I thought the team’s attack was disjointed most of the game. Most of the game, there were those who were tasked with defense, and those who were tasked with offense. There were too few players getting forward, leaving the strikers and attacking midfielders constantly working against superior numbers.
I think it’s way too soon to change the formation. If the formation isn’t going to change, there may be a change in personnel.
I think Darlington Nagbe may come in for Larentowicz and resume his role of a bridge midfielder. Nagbe is more offensive-minded and better able to turn defense into offense. Nagbe is also slightly more patient with the ball in the transition situations that Atlanta United couldn’t capitalize on in the last game. I’m referring to Ezequiel Barco’s penchant to pick up the ball and run straight ahead as fast as he could, only to put on the brakes and make a pass that resulted in a turnover.
It struck me that Barco was doing his best impersonation of Miguel Almiron, but the final product was missing.
I did like, really like, how aggressive Barco was being, especially compared to last season. The final pass needs to be better. Part of that will require his teammates joining him in the attack more quickly. Sometimes, it seemed like it was he, Pity Martinez and Josef Martinez taking on 6-7 Herediano players.
5. One other thing that will help is for Barco to shoot when he has the ball 20-22 yards from goal. Those who have followed my coverage of the team may be familiar with my frustration (for lack of a better word) with Barco’s reluctance to shoot when he works himself into a good spot on his right foot. He only needs to look at what happened when Gressel did something similar on the left side to see what can happen when a shot is taken. After all, a team can’t score if it doesn’t shoot. Barco must shoot more often.
6. Defensively, Atlanta United had a quite a few issues. Bello got caught up field a few times. He will learn from that.
Gonzalez Pirez had a horrible opening 10 minutes, but I thought he found his legs and played well after that.
Larentowicz had issues dealing with Herediano’s speed up the middle.
Eric Remedi had arguably his worst game since joining the team last summer. Michael Parkhurst played OK as the right-sided back in a three-man backline, but, in my opinion, that’s not his best spot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Robinson and Parkhurst switch so that Robinson can better take advantage of his athleticism on the right, which will require more running, and Parkhurst can take advantage of his ability to anticipate and read situations in the middle.
7. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Brek Shea come on for Bello. Remember that Atlanta United will open its defense of the MLS Cup on Sunday at D.C. United. The team is going to need fresh legs.
De Boer tried to explain why for the first game he selected Bello over Shea, but his explanation about Shea’s height on the horrible turf in Costa Rica didn’t make a lot of sense to anyone. I think he was trying to be respectful to Shea but couldn’t find the right words. Plus, I’m certain he was mentally fried after the game and there wasn’t a lot of time to gather thoughts before the interview.
8. There is one last factor that should help Atlanta United: the turf at Fifth Third Bank Stadium is going to be a million times better than the worn, uneven and sticky turf at Herediano. Atlanta United had a difficult time completing passes, trapping the ball and changing directions because of the low quality of the field.
9. A travel story from me: I learned a few weeks ago that Herediano’s stadium wasn’t going to have power or wireless, so I planned accordingly. To my great surprise, there was one electrical outlet near a seat that FIFA and Herediano reserved for me (huge thanks to both organizations) and there was a small wireless spot in the stadium. The signal wasn’t great and lasted until the game’s final two minutes. By then, I had my story in the system and texted my boss that he needed to publish because I wasn’t going to be able to do so.
Other things of note about the stadium: there was no scoreboard and no clock. So, we were trying to time the game using the clocks on your laptops. On our corner of the stadium, there was one toilet. One. We are a bit spoiled in America.
I left the stadium around midnight, I think. I requested an Uber. The service is technically illegal in Costa Rica, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Uber drivers. My driver picked me up near the stadium. After picking up a rider, the driver typically asks the passengers to ride in the front seat so that it doesn’t make it obvious they are performing the services of a taxi driver.
I got into the car.
I asked the driver if he spoke English. He said no.
He asked me if I spoke Spanish. I was tired and said no. I guess I can speak a few words.
I tried to mime/explain that I was going to spend the time on the ride working. I needed to transcribe interviews so that when I got to the hotel I could start writing. Transcribing is the bane of my existence. Hate it.
Just thinking about it makes me go crazy.
Anyway, he said “Si.”
I thought we were good.
I opened up my computer and started working.
He got on his phone.
This will be easy, I thought.
Suddenly, he taps me on my shoulder and points at his phone.
“This isn’t good,” I thought, followed by “If he’s kidnapping me, I think he’s vastly overestimating my worth.”
Through the phone, I hear someone speaking English say, “Where do you want to go?”
“What?” I asked, a bit confused.
“Where do you want to go?,” the voice repeated.
I realized that the driver hadn’t actually looked at the destination that I plugged into the Uber app.
Thankfully, he had a family member who spoke English.
Otherwise, I may still be riding around Costa Rica. It’s a beautiful country.
10. Lastly, I want to thank everyone for sending positive vibes after I almost electrocuted myself yesterday. On our property in Carrollton is an RV barn. It came with the house.
There is an electrical wire that runs from our house to the barn. As I was trimming hedges behind the driveway, I stepped on that power wire.
As I was swinging the battery-powered trimmer, it made contact with the wire, which was covered in insulation and by leafs and other stuff.
I felt a pop in my ankle. I looked down and saw the grass was on fire. I then noticed that the instep of my right tennis shoe was black and no longer gray.
I stepped on the fire, made sure I was breathing and resumed trimming the hedges.
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