Atlanta triumphant in Campeones Cup
Last night Atlanta United won the Campeones Cup in a 3-2 win over Club America. To date, the 5 Stripes have only lost one home game a testament to the raucous home crowd that cheered the team to the second trophy in the club’s history. The game was a thriller until the very end. Perhaps it wasn’t a textbook win in the normal Atlanta style, but kept fans on the edge of our seats. The first goal came early in the match when Emerson Hyndman slotted the ball past Jimenez with the inside of his left foot to make the game 1-0 in the 5th minute. The omnipresent Darlington Nagbe was fouled, and advantage was played. After a quick one-two pass with Pereira, the ball fell to Hyndman’s feet with space. Atlanta was off to a great start. However, the lead did not last long.
Less than two minutes later the Ecuadorian National Renato Ibarra exploited some poor defending from the Atlanta back 3, hitting the top of the crossbar with a shot from point-blank range. Then in the 12th minute, he was fed a ball through the middle of the box, and coolly slotted the ball into the back of the net after a slight touch once again off the middle of the top post. The scoreline was then 1-1, putting a scare into some Atlanta fans with the quick equalizer. The goal truly exposed the back of the United Defense. Ibarra had 30 yards of free space to roam into completely unmarked and was found easily with a cross from Guido Martinez. It should be said that Alex Kahn, the homegrown Decatur product, made some crucial and difficult saves during this game. Awkward balls that would have indeed drifted into the back of the net were parried aside by the Atlanta #2 Keeper. The goal of Ibarra was truly unstoppable.
VAR giveth and VAR taketh away
As was made evident at the beginning of the broadcast, the new rules for International Football were in play. The same rules that were used in the somewhat confusing Women’s World Cup. The problem with these rules is they seem to be rather flexible in certain situations. It took Joe Aguilar, the well established El Salvadorian referee quite a while to render his final verdict. After looking at VAR he pointed to the spot and a very confusing sight in sued. The call-in question was a rash challenge by Bruno Valdez, who after a botched clearance, completely missed the ball and caught Pity Martinez as he tried the volley. It seemed like a classic VAR decision, although similar penalties have been called without VAR. Then came an even rarer spectacle, Josef Martinez the unconventional yet deadly penalty taker stepped up to the spot for another stutter-stop penalty.
This time the keeper was not fooled by his unconventional style. This kick from the spot was one of the oddest he has taken all season. With a hop to the left, he approached the ball in his unique style. This time his tactic of using the odd movements to send the keeper the wrong way worked against him. The Atlanta striker almost came to a full stop leaning to the right, hitting the ball with the inside of his right foot. The ball had speed but the keeper dove to his left and kept it out, but could not hold it. The second effort flew over the crossbar. After watching the replay several times it was evident that the Jimenez was well off of his line, coming at least a yard out before the ball was kicked. The problem with this is that the new FIFA Rules concerning penalty kicks designated Law 14 by FIFA states: “The defending goalkeeper must remain on the goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts, without touching the goalposts, crossbar or goal net, until the ball has been kicked. The players other than the kicker and goalkeeper must be at least 9.15 m (10 yds) from the penalty mark behind the penalty mark.” Under those guidelines, the penalty should have been retaken, yet there was not even a review by the referee. This is another fundamental problem with VAR. If it is used to give a penalty kick, why would they not review how the kick was saved? Without coming off of his line, there is a possibility the ball would have gone past the keeper. Perhaps the conversion rate of penalties in World Football, which heavily favors the kick taker, with 75% of kicks from the spot being converted played a part in the referee’s mind. Whatever the case for the non-review of the already VAR given penalty, the score stood 1-1. It was only the second penalty missed by Martinez this season.
Set pieces are one of Club America’s best talents
The 57th minute of the game gave Atlanta fans a scare. A corner was given to Club America. They are known in Liga MX for their ability to score from set-pieces. The point was even mentioned earlier in the game by one of the commentators. The ball was expertly crossed in from the corner and was barely clipped over the line by Roger Martinez. At first glance, it wasn’t obvious to the audience if the ball had fully crossed the line. The watch worn by the referee in modern football informed the ref that the ball had crossed the goal. Although Kahn had a great night in goal he should have saved this shot. He seemingly fumbled the ball over the line, which was then cleared out after it had already crossed. At least from the TV view, if Kahn had come off his line a yard or more, he could have punched the ball well out of the box. Regardless the goal stood and the score was 2-1 in favor of the Mexican Club.
A moment of pure brilliance puts a spark back into United
A little more than one minute after Club America took the lead, one of the most unlikely of heroes showed a moment of master class. After a cross from Julian Gressel was headed clear, the ball fell to the feet of Jeff Larentowicz*.* The shot came from at least 10 yards outside of the box; the 36-year-old struck the ball with venom. Although it took a slight deflection the ball screamed into the upper left corner of the net sending the Atlanta fans into pandemonium. This should be a contender for o goals scored all season. With only 11 starts this year he has not played as much as he has in previous years. That goal catapulted the crowd, the team, and everyone watching at home into elated madness. Goals such as these can be the pendulum in which the game turns the fortunes of teams. Moments can change the momentum so quickly the whole complexion of the game turns. The stunning strike was certainly the case last night.
Fortune favors the bold
The 63rd minute of the game brought with it a rash challenge by Rodriguez on Pogba inside of the box which led to a clear penalty. Who would be the man to step up to the spot? Who other than the unshaken, unflappable, Josef Martinez? Without even a hesitation he took the penalty in that same superb style. This time however the pace on the ball gave the keeper no chance as it soared into the upper 90. The confidence of Martinez having missed earlier in the game was impressive. Many kick takers shy away from 2nd penalties after having missed one already. Martinez showed no fear whatsoever. After the penalty was converted Atlanta led the game 3-2, and they would not relinquish the advantage.
The game turned more in favor of the 5 Stripes in the 72nd minute, as Martinez sped past Bruno Valdez. He brought the #7 down with a last-ditch attempt to keep him from getting in behind. After a slight hesitation by the referee, he reached in his pocket and pulled out the 2nd yellow card for Valdez, sending him off the pitch with a red card. After Club America went a man down victory seemed almost certain for Atlanta. The ball was held in a very defensive manner by United for the remainder of the game and after 4 minutes of stoppage time the whistle was blown and Atlanta United had won the Campeones Cup. Even though the Cup has only been around two years, it was obvious by the play that it meant a lot to both teams. The win was huge for Atlanta. The performance showed Atlanta in ever-increasing good form ahead of a match up with Portland, Orlando, and then on to the U.S Open Final against Minnesota. Another Cup has been added to the United trophy case, but with another one in a few weeks, and two hard match-ups before the next Cup Final Atlanta can take a breath a celebrate only for a moment. What a beautiful moment it was.