The best game of the young MLS season, by my measure, took place on Saturday at BMO Field. Atlanta United dropped by to steal a point from TFC, getting out of dodge with a 2-2 draw that could've been more but probably should've been less, and dropped a little bit of everything – great goals, great passing, great defense, tactical shifts, etc. – into our laps.
There are a couple of takeaways from this one. First, is that this was fun:
But despite that, I think this game was characterized by squandered chances from the Toronto FC attack. Sebastian Giovinco had multiple good chances, including one just after this goal, to no good end. Jozy Altidore, when presented with an open lane to goal, tried an ill-advised chip that Alec Kann handled easily.
Neither guy has been sharp.
The Atlanta United attack, on the other hand, has been a freaking katana all year long. They scored two more goals on the break today, and absolutely deserved to leave BMO with a point.
A few notes:
• Pressing teams don't like to be pressed, and that's how TFC were able to largely control the first half of this game. They produced a ton of takeaways in their own attacking half, and when they pushed forward they flooded the box relentlessly. The payoff was this goal just before halftime (put the sound up if you want to hear the analysis):
Flood the box! Get runners in there if you're gonna make the high press work. pic.twitter.com/lDxA2Ghfoh— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) April 9, 2017
• Atlanta's first-half goal came courtesy of their explosive verticality. Even without Josef Martinez – even with Hector Villalba playing half as a winger, half as a forward, they were able to beat TFC up the gut:
Miguel Almiron has been close to impossible to track off the ball, and for a good chunk of this game he'd drift out to the wings for his starting points. He nominally was a winger in the lineup sheet that Tata Martino put out, but in reality was just a free No. 10 in a sort of lopsided, a-symmetrical 4-3-1-2.
This is fun. It's not "Total Football" in the Dutch mold, but a sort of positionless attacking mindset that's consistently produced danger if not always results. Even when TFC were on the front foot Atlanta always felt dangerous.
• Martino made a really good switch early in the second half, dropping Jeff Larentowicz out of central midfield and into the backline, switching that 4-3-1-2 to something between a 5-2-1-2 and a 3-4-1-2. The wager was that pulling another defender deep would make it more difficult for TFC to complete passes around the box (this was a good wager), and that it was more important to do that than it was to gum up the midfield (also a good wager).
I thought TFC missed having an attacker add penetration against that set-up – someone who'd just burst through the lines. Instead they tried to jam it into Altidore up the gut, and while he had his moments, there were enough visiting defenders swarming the box to make it very, very difficult to complete the types of passes that had opened the game up in the first half.
And thus, a hugely entertaining stalemate.