Decision Day delirium, Columbus awaits for Atlanta United: Starting Lineup, October 22
by Jason Longshore
1- Decision Day never misses, does it? Even on a night where the drama wasn't going to obviously be there for Atlanta United, the drama was found in a wild 2-2 draw with the Supporters' Shield winners FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium. Atlanta still has not lost in Cincinnati in five matches (2-0-3). Atlanta took the lead twice, only for MLS MVP candidate Lucho Acosta to bring Cincinnati back.
Giorgos Giakoumakis scored both goals for Atlanta to finish the regular season with 17 goals in his first MLS campaign. Thiago Almada assisted on both goals to push his tally to 19 helpers for 2023. Saba Lobjanidze also added an assist, taking his 5 in 9 appearances. (Photo credit: ATLUTD)
2- Some of the drama was self-inflicted unfortunately as Thiago Almada was sent off for a second yellow card early in the second half. He was bumped by Yerson Mosquera behind the play and reacted, kicking out at him. Mosquera made a meal of it, but Almada can't allow himself to react in that way when he's already on a yellow and with a referee who has no problem making match-changing decisions like Joe Dickerson. Both yellows were very soft, but they were both yellow card worthy and now Almada will miss the first game of the first round series on the road.
It's the challenge of being a young attacking player. You're constantly getting pushed, grabbed, kicked at, harrassed, elbowed, cleaned out after releasing a pass, etc. but you can't react to it in this way. We've seen so many talented players over the years deal with it and have to learn harsh lessons. It's one reason why I so strongly advocate for skilled players to receive proper protection from referees in this league, to try to avoid the mistakes in lashing out due to frustration. It's also why I don't love seeing referees enjoy confrontations with players, and sometimes invite them. It's easy in this game to boil over and make a dumb mistake. Players don't need to be assisted in this by being provoked, prodded, or cajoled into it.
3- In some ways, this makes Atlanta's game plan going into the first match in Columbus far more unpredictable. Wilfried Nancy will obviously be happy to not see Thiago Almada on the pitch in that first match, but who replaces him and what it does to how Atlanta approaches the match is an unknown and there's quite a few variables to it. Is it another midfielder who comes on in Almada's place, is it a center back to play a line of five, or is it a second forward who can drop underneath Giakoumakis, making the shape more of a 4-4-1-1? Does Atlanta concede possession more than they typically have? Nancy will have lots of possibilities to potentially prepare for, and the new variables give Gonzalo Pineda the potential for pulling a surprise.
4- For most of the day in the Eastern Conference, it looked like Charlotte would be hosting Montreal in the wild card round, but a late penalty for the Red Bulls turned everything on its head. John Tolkin converted from the spot and that vaulted the Red Bulls into the postseason for the 14th straight year and bumped Montreal out. It also means that the wild card round will be at Red Bull Arena with Charlotte traveling to New Jersey.
Montreal players had to watch from the bench in Columbus after their loss to the Crew as their playoff hopes went up in smoke.
5- Full credit to Charlotte. I did not have them making an early goal hold up for a 1-0 win on my Decision Day bingo card, but they took care of business. Charlotte dropped more points from winning positions than any team in the league this year and did that again twice on Wednesday against this same Miami team. However, they preserved their clean sheet and earned their first playoff appearance.
6- Out West, two clubs that fired long-time coaches with the goal of rescuing playoff appearances crashed and burned on Decision Day. Portland was in 7th starting the evening, their loss to Houston at home combined with other results knocked them out of the postseason entirely. Minnesota's loss to Sporting Kansas City also eliminated them. I said it when the moves happened, I felt like Giovanni Savarese and Adrian Heath deserved better and that the potential return from firing long-time managers was unlikely to happen. In my opinion, Savarese and Heath deserved to finish the year before changes, rightfully, were made in both situations.
Also, don't let anyone tell you that the regular season doesn't matter in this league and that because of the playoff format, no one feels any pressure. Giovanni Savarese and Adrian Heath would beg to differ with those hot takes.
7- Will Seattle's win in St. Louis throw any cold water on the title expectations of this year's New Kids on the Block? I feel like anything could happen out West. The veteran experience of Seattle and LAFC will be a factor in who gets through, the confidence of Houston, the relentlessness of St. Louis, and then the potential for upsets makes this one of the most unpredictable playoffs in recent memory.
8- We also learned on Decision Day that Josef Martinez will not be back in Miami next season, Diego Rubio said his goodbyes on social media to Colorado fans, and Kei Kamara is not retiring but won't be back with the Chicago Fire. There's no surprise when it comes to Martinez with the open courting of Luis Suarez by the Herons and the re-signing of Leo Campana. Rubio has been a great servant for the Rapids, but it's probably time for him to move on with another reset coming for the club. Kamara will continue his quest to play for every club in the league in 2024 it sounds like.
9- Jamaica's women's national team is back into another crisis of the federation's making as the players on the roster that earned the team's first knockout round appearance at a Women's World Cup this summer are choosing not to take part in qualifying for the Concacaf W Gold Cup. The players say that have not received "full and correct" payment for the tournament over the summer and that they were told at the last minute about the staff replacing Lorne Donaldson in charge of the program. "We have dealt with this lack of communication, poor organization, poor management and delayed payments from the JFF time and time again," the team said.
10- On this day in 2017, it was the first Decision Day in Atlanta United history as the 5 Stripes also had a wild 2-2 draw on the final day of the season, this time to Toronto. Josef Martinez and Yamil Asad scored Atlanta's goals on the crazy afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
11- On this date in 1976, the first punk single was released in Great Britain as The Damned dropped "New Rose". They played their first show a few months earlier, supporting the Sex Pistols and the release of "New Rose" as a single came five weeks before the Pistols dropped "Anarchy in the UK". Enjoy your Song of the Day: