Jul 15, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United fans celebrate French's victory during the World Cup watch party at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the Atlanta United game against the Seattle Sounders. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
ATLANTA — In a contest broadcast across the country following a World Cup final that featured six goals, Atlanta United and the Seattle Sounders played to a 1-1 draw.
The Sunday Major League Soccer matinee featured little scoring, but plenty of everything else. There were cards, there were fouls, there was a Video Assistant Referee review, there were substitutions, an ejection and even a penalty kick. To be exact, there were 25 fouls called and five yellow cards dished out.
When the dust settled in front of a record-breaking crowd of an announced 72,243 fans, the scoreboard stood even. Atlanta United (12-4-5, 41 points) and the Seattle Sounders (4-9-5, 17 points) both left Mercedes-Benz Stadium with just a single point.
Seattle was the first side to get on the board when it got a bit of help from VAR in the 44th minute. A high-velocity shot from Harry Shipp connected with the hand of Atlanta defender Franco Escobar in the penalty area. The referee initially signaled for a corner kick, but Seattle players stalled, essentially refusing to take the corner kick. Referee Baldomero Toledo eventually took a a second look, changed his call to a penalty kick and handed Escobar a yellow card.
Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino though that the handball was the right call, but said he hopes that the speed and consistency of VAR improves.
“I just think they can be a little faster with their decision making and the reviews,” Martino said through a translator. “Today I got a message that my dinner was ready at home, but unfortunately they were still reviewing that play.”
Nicolás Lodeiro put the penalty kick away, then hopped over the wall to grab a Uruguay flag from a fan in the stands. It was the 29-year-old midfielder’s second goal of the season. The penalty kick marked just the second that Seattle has won this season.
Seattle strikes first! ⚽️
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) July 15, 2018
The Five Stripes knotted things up shortly after halftime thanks to — who else? — Josef Martinez. Julian Gressel lobbed a ball into the penalty area and the Venezuelan striker rose up above two Seattle defenders to head the ball into the box. The shot sailed just out of reach for Sounders keeper Stefan Frei.
“I just got in that half space again and I looked up and saw Josef kind of making a run behind the centerbacks and I figured, he’s pretty close to goal already, so if I just float it in there, I know he can jump pretty high,” Gressel said. “He did a great job at finishing it.”
The goal was the 19th of the season for Martinez, which leads all of MLS. Of his 38 career MLS goals, seven of them have been headers.
Gressel now has eight assists on the season.
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) July 15, 2018
Seattle played with 10 men for much of the second half after Jordan McCrary was given his second yellow card of the match. The first came in the 30th minute and a referee handed the Georgia native his second in the 63rd minute for a hard tackle on Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez. McCrary, 24, is a native of Alpharetta, Ga., and went to Lassiter High School in Marietta, just 12 miles from Atlanta United’s training grounds.
There was a chance that this match would’ve marked the debut of newly-acquired Peruvian forward Raul Ruidiaz, but Seattle instead used its substitutions to bring on Kelvin Leerdam, Gustav Svensson and Osvaldo Alonso.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said after the game that Ruidiaz will “certainly” play next weekend.
For Atlanta, the match did mark the return of Chris McCann’s return to the starting lineup. It was the first start for the 30-year-old Irish defender since June 2. He missed five straight matches with a hamstring injury and subbed on last week in the Five Stripes 2-0 win over Philadelphia.
There were two plays involving McCann that were discussed on social media by fans during the game, and talked about by players afterwards.
The first came in the 29th minute, when, on an Atlanta corner kick, Kim Kee-hee had McCann wrapped up in the penalty box and eventually took him to the ground. There was no call on the play from the referee and the VAR never intervened.
“Chris McCann gets wrestled down in the box and they don’t even (look),” Gressel said. “Not even a little thing (points to his ear) like that. The consistency piece of VAR still needs to improve and the speed of it. The speed of making decisions.”
Added Martino: “(McCann) gets grabbed around the neck and I think it’s pretty visible. Maybe not by the referee because he’s not in the correct position to make the call, but I think if they would’ve checked it then they would’ve seen the foul.”
— Mitchell Northam (@primetimeMitch) July 15, 2018
McCann had the chance to even the game up for the Five Stripes late, when a corner kick from Ezequiel Barco sailed into the box. It bounced around a few players, was headed by Gonzalez-Pirez, and eventually landed at McCan”s feet, right in front of the net. His shot was stopped by Frei, who had six saves in the match and claimed three crosses.
“It was one where I thought Leandro had scored because he was right there. It hit the bar then it hit me in an awkward place then just fell to my feet. I couldn’t get it out of my feet with enough power to hit it. The one place I did hit was the keeper (at) his legs. It’s just typical,” McCann said. “(I’m) probably better off just stuffing it into the ground and it would’ve went in, but it is what it is, we’ll take the point and move on now.”
In less than a week, Atlanta will host a new-look D.C. United and Wayne Rooney at the Benz on July 21. Atlanta is now 2-2-2 in its last six home matches.
In that match, Martino hopes that more players aside from Martinez provide goals for Atlanta.
“The only thing I would say, and it’s not worrisome, but something we could work on is to have somebody other than Josef in and around the box who’s able to score goals for us,” Martino said. “We need to try to have more guys in goal scoring positions.”
- Jeff Larentowicz made his 378th career appearance, tying him for fourth most in MLS history with former New England Revolution midfielder Steve Ralston for appearances by a field player.
- 26 of Martinez’s 38 career MLS goals have come at home.
- Gonzalez-Pirez picked up a yellow card in the 15th minute when his elbow made contact with Lodeiro’s chest. It is his seventh yellow card of the season, but first since June 9, when Atlanta drew with NYCFC.
- Atlanta has scored eight goals between the 16th and 30th minute of matches this season, the most in MLS. Seattle has conceded just once in that time, the fewest in MLS.
- After Sunday’s match, Atlanta now owns the top five attendances in league history. Three of those games have come this season.