Mar 30, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Atlanta United defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (5) slides across the grass in the second half against the Columbus Crew at MAPFRE Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
Here are three takeaways from the match in Columbus:
The game should have been postponed
After a lightning delay around the 30-minute mark, heavy rain and an insufficient drainage system made the pitch at Mapfre Stadium unplayable. There was standing water near one touchline from the start, and by the time the teams returned from halftime, passing the ball on the ground was impossible. Players were slipping and sliding. It was difficult to watch what was unfolding. In his postgame comments, Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer called the conditions “dangerous.”
Major League Soccer rules stipulate all matches must be played to their completion. The decision as to whether a game will be postponed is made by the league office at any point prior to kickoff, based on national and local weather forecasting as well as stadium infrastructure. Once the opening whistle is blown, it is up to the referee’s discretion. Considering the amount of water on the field Saturday night, it’s hard to understand why Joe Dickerson did not call a stop to the action.
A league spokesperson declined to comment on Dickerson’s decision to keep the game moving. The Professional Referee Organization is expected to provide some clarification in the near future.
Defensive changes let Atlanta down
Don’t blame the weather for the defeat. With Franco Escobar fully recovered from a broken collarbone, de Bore inserted the Argentine at right fullback and deployed a back four from the start for the first time this season. The elements didn’t help, but giving Escobar his first start and changing the defensive structure against such a quality opponent away from home was a mistake.
Columbus scored in the second minute when Wil Trapp and Artur were both given time and space to play passes and no Atlanta defender picked up Pedro Santos at the back post. Nine minutes after the delay ended, the Crew struck again when Federico Higuain and Robinho Barbosa were unhurried on the ball and Gyasi Zardes was unmarked in the center of the penalty area.
In the week preceding the game, de Boer and his players all mentioned Higuain, Trapp and Artur as the focal points of Columbus’ attack, the men who had to be kept in check. Both goals left Atlanta players looking at each other in confusion. The Five Stripes would have been better off using a familiar defensive structure against the Crew, even if that meant leaving Escobar out of the starting lineup.
The attack showed improvement
The fans’ response to Columbus Crew 2-0 Atlanta United is mostly doom and gloom, and for good reason. The Five Stripes have two points from four games and sit last in the Eastern Conference. However, there is the thinnest of silver linings. Before the playing surface became a marsh, Atlanta’s attack did look better than it has in previous weeks, and the Five Stripes created a few of the quality chances that have been lacking. Julian Gressel and Ezequiel Barco both forced good saves from Manchester City-bound goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
If Atlanta can build on the first-half attacking performance and shore up defensive responsibilities in a 4-3-3, the results will improve. However, that remains a big “if.”