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Atlanta United advances after 3-1 win over NYCFC

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Tata Martino’s time in charge of Atlanta United isn’t over just yet.

In front of a raucous and thankful Mercedes-Benz Stadium crowd, Atlanta United advanced with a 3-1 win over NYCFC to advance to the Eastern Conference finals on a 4-1 aggregate scoreline. Josef Martinez opened the scoring by converting a penalty that featured a ridiculously colorful run-up, and Miguel Almiron delivered an exquisite free-kick to seal the deal before halftime to leave the result in little doubt.

NYCFC defender Maxime Chanot deposited an absurdly free header on a set-piece just before halftime to make things interesting, but the visitors failed to produce much with the 70% possession they held throughout the match. Martinez put the game away late as he got behind an incredibly high NYCFC back line and snatched an Eric Remedi through-ball, finishing past Sean Johnson to send the hosts through.

NYCFC playmaker Yangel Herrera struggled mightily in the first half and was yanked at halftime by manager Domenec Torrent. His replacement Valentin Castellano wasn’t able to do much more, and NYCFC ultimately was left with little to cling to, eliminated from the MLS playoffs in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the third straight year.

Martino announced he is leaving Atlanta United at the end of the season, but will continue to see them through the playoffs as they reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, set to face either Columbus or RBNY. Atlanta suffered a disappointing knockout round exit in their first year of existence last season.

Atlanta earns big 1-0 road playoff win over NYCFC in first leg

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Atlanta United used a first-half goal – after another was wiped off – to earn a gritty first-leg win over NYCFC at Yankee Stadium on Sunday evening. Eric Remedi scored the game’s lone goal after Miguel Almiron had one negated on replay 17 minutes earlier. They would lock things up from there – without Almiron in the second half – keeping NYCFC without a shot on target all game.

The opening 15 minutes was incredibly chippy as both teams began with a physical brand of play. A plethora of fouls led to some heated attitudes and fed the choppy flow. NYCFC seemed to have the better attacking mindset in the opening few minutes, but it would be Atlanta that found the back of the net first, or so they thought.

It was a bit of a fluky goal as Almiron – back from his muscle injury – took a swipe at a cross, and he flubbed it, driving it straight into the ground. It popped high up into the air, and managed to chip Sean Johnson into the back of the net. They checked with the VAR crew after the strike, and offside was called earlier as the short corner was played, ruling the goal out.

They would atone, however, as it would be Remedi to earn the opener in the 37th minute. Off a corner, Josef Martínez delivered an absolutely blistering side-volley that Johnson was equal to. The rebound, however, was pushed to the far post where Remedi was waiting for the tap-in.

There were very few chances after the break, as Atlanta held NYCFC without a single shot on target the entire match, while Atlanta had just four of its own. Almiron came off at halftime, and the visitors looked to protect its away goal. NYCFC put together a few good offensive spells, but just couldn’t muster anything for David Villa who came close in a couple of moments but failed to produce a goal.

The win sends Atlanta back home in a great position, owning the lead and an away goal. The only time they played NYCFC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the regular season was back in April when the teams played to a 2-2 draw.

MLS MVP down to five finalists

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Major League Soccer released its five finalists for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP Award, headlined by a pair of former Manchester United teammates.

LA Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and DC United attacker Wayne Rooney are up for the award, along with LAFC’s Carlos Vela and Atlanta United teammates Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez.

Ibrahimovic might be considered the favorite had LA not failed to make the playoffs, while Atlanta may be hampered by having two players up for the honor. Vela has been outstanding on expansion LAFC despite inconsistency in his supporting cast.

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Rooney would win MVP despite playing in less than 54 percent of the season’s minutes.

Ibrahimovic, Vela, and Almiron are ranked 1-2-3 in performance scored by advanced stats site WhoScored. Rooney is 10th, and Martinez 11th.

Coincidentally, that’s close to how the voting should finish (although Rooney has been a revelation, Martinez broke the goal record so let’s at least flip those two).

This is one of those times that the MLS Most Valuable Player being named after Landon Donovan may not be ideal.

Especially if Zlatan wins the award. Imagine the speech: “Today, this is award is now the Zlatan Ibrahimovic Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player Award, sponsored by Zlatan.

Report: Almiron to join West Ham in $33 million deal

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Miguel Almiron is expected to leave Atlanta United this offseason and when he does he will demand a record transfer fee for an outgoing MLS player.

A report from Ultima Hora claims that West Ham have moved ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham in the race to sign the 24-year-old Paraguayan forward.

Per the report “it will be West Ham who breaks the market and pays $33 million for the Paraguayan striker at end of the year” and they will sign Argentine Gonzalo Martinez to replace Almiron.

Now, that $33 million figure has come from club president Darren Eales talking about Almiron’s value earlier this month and how reported fees of $11 million were laughable and it would take offers three times that to get Atlanta to start listening. Hence, the $33 million.

Now, it does seem that there will be a seismic shift for Atlanta this offseason with their coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino already announcing he will move on after leading them to a stunning first two seasons as a franchise.

With Almiron reportedly wanting to head to Europe, plus the likes of Josef Martinez also linked with moves, one of the most exciting attacking lineups in MLS history may well be ravaged in the offseason.

Would Almiron fit in well at West Ham? With Manuel Lanzini out for the season through injury and Andriy Yarmolenko now out for six months after an Achilles injury, the Hammers do have some depth issues in the attacking area of the pitch. And with all due respect to both Almiron and the Hammers, he could expect to play a lot more for West Ham than Arsenal and Spurs in the upcoming months. Then again, maybe holding out for a move to Spurs is a better option given Pochettino’s record developing promising youngsters into world-class talents?

An infuriating attempt at the 2018 MLS Best XI

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It occurs to me that projecting an MLS Best XI for this year is tougher than its been in some time.

In truth, it’s probably been growing in that manner on an annual basis. Shoot, look at last year’s post on the topic.

It’s especially difficult to narrow down your attackers if you want an XI to be representative of anything close to a unit you’d place on field.

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Consider that the league has three 20-goal scorers, none who could be considered anything close to a midfielder, and six players with double digits goals and assists.

Let’s start with the necessities.

Forwards: The XI could not look remotely rational without Josef Martinez’s 30-goal record season, and there’s on debate that Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s 22 goals in 26 matches rates.

So there’s two forwards, which means you need to exclude all but one of the following players:

  • Wayne Rooney — 12 goals, six assists, 19 matches
  • Bradley Wright-Phillips — 20 goals, 7 assists, 31 matches
  • Carlos Vela — 13 goals, 10 assists, 27 matches

And, by the way, Adama Diomande has 12 goals in 17 matches and David Villa 13 in 22. Not bad.

Midfielders: Miguel Almiron, Ignacio Piatti, and Nicolas Lodeiro have had out of this world campaigns, as has Alphonso Davies. Both Davies and Piatti are unlikely to make the playoffs, and should that matter? Orlando’s Yoshi Yotun and Mohamed El-Munir (a defender) have been amongst the best at their spots, but their team was terrible.

Borek Dockal, Luciano Acosta, Lodeiro, and NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez have 15 assists or more. Sebastian Giovinco and Darwin Quintero are just off the pace despite playing 27 and 26 games on bad teams.

Dockal is averaging an assist in two of three matches this season, and Piatti.

Piatti!

Defenders: This one’s difficult because you need at least three and this league is like the Dutch Eredivisie on steroids (Even that league only had one 20-goal scorer last season).

There’s a bit of cheating in including Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi, the influential right back who also plays advanced at times and also guarantees us an SKC man on the roster. And Matt Besler is a better positional fit, but Zusi feels more necessary.

It feels like either Aaron Long or Tim Parker should represent the Red Bulls, and Walker Zimmerman has reclaimed his elite form with LAFC.

Goalkeepers: Tim Melia and Luis Robles both pace the league in clean sheets with 13, while Andre Blake of Philadelphia and Evan Bush have thrived on… less impressive units. Bush has faced 181 shots, more than all but one goalkeeper, and has made a league-high 130 saves in keeping Montreal alive.

Conclusion: Look, we’re going to have to try and outscore the other team now, aren’t we? And we’re going to lose. But it’s going to be fun.

I’ve got it down to 10 players, only repeating two teams (Red Bulls and Atlanta).

There’s no one from Dallas, who deserves a man, nor NYCFC. Plus  we’ve got two players who could miss the playoffs in Zlatan and Piatti, but it’s crazy not to include them. It just is.

So who gets our 11th slot? A stable center mid? Vela to make it a 3-4-3 and a third team with two slots?

Robles (RBNY)

Zusi (SKC) — Zimmerman (LAFC) — Long (RBNY)

Almiron (ATL) — Piatti (MTL) — Dockal (PHI) — Lodeiro (SEA)

Vela (LAFC) —  Ibrahimovic (LAG) — Martinez (ATL)