Friday's match between the Seattle Sounders and Atlanta United was one to circle on the calendar. As host, there was the reigning MLS Cup champion, the Seattle Sounders. Meanwhile, as visitors, Atlanta United were eager to show they have what it takes to be one of the league's most successful expansion teams.
In the end, it was a tight, back-and-forth scoreless draw – but it offered plenty of insights. Here are six takeaways from Friday's action:
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Atlanta have learned life without Martinez won't be easy
The top goal-scorer for Atlanta United so far – and the entire league – has been Josef Martinez, with five goals in three games. So when he was injured during the international break with Venezuela, it instantly merited concerns about how Atlanta United would proceed. He is expected to be out as long as six weeks, and Atlanta got a harsh first look at life without him on Friday.
Without Martinez's speed and his ability to split centerbacks, Atlanta looked less threatening and less dynamic on Friday. They needed to get more out of their wingers, and indeed Yamil Asad looked like their most potent threat racing in from the left wing until Miguel Almiron came on late. But it couldn't match Martinez's explosiveness and his ability to put backlines under relentless pressure.
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Dempsey is a game-changer – still
As if it didn't become blatantly apparent from Clint Dempsey's excellent play – including a hat trick – during the international break for the USMNT, Friday's match made it clear again. Dempsey was rested after his heavy international schedule and came on in the second half for the Sounders, where he very nearly scored within his first minute on the field. His well-taken right-footed shot was knocked off the crossbar in the closest chance Seattle had all night.
As Cristian Roldan put it: "When Clint came on, everyone has this belief that we would score. He's that kind of player." At 34 years old, Dempsey has still very much got it – and his no-look passes were fun, too.
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Gressel got away with one, and video replay would've caught it
In just the 20th minute, it looked like the match was about to change in a big way. Julian Gressel slid through Roldan with a high, studs-showing boot, leaving Roldan clutching his leg in a heap. It seemed like Gressel would get a red card or Roldan would need to come off – but neither happened.
Gressel was let off with only a yellow card and he's probably pretty lucky. MLS commissioner Don Garber has said he expects video replay to be implemented after the All-Star break and, if that happens, tackles like Gressel's resulting in just a yellow will probably become a thing of the past.
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Lodeiro uncharacteristically struggled, but Alonso and Roldan were great
If you took a peek at Nicolas Lodeiro's distribution map on Friday night, you would've seen a lot of red – red for missed passes and turnovers. He led every player on the field in losing possession in the first half, and it was a bit uncharacteristic of the playmaker who has been so crucial to Seattle's ability to combine and create chances.
But fortunately for the Sounders' ability to stay in the game, Osvaldo Alonso and Cristian Roldan were both very good in the midfield. They helped Seattle hold onto possession, completed their passes and moved into good spaces. Roldan was all over the field, given the freedom to make an impact on both sides of the ball, while Alonso was crucial to making the quick, simple passes Seattle needed to get out of trouble.
Roldan will get a U.S. national team call sooner rather than later
Speaking of Roldan, the upside for the 21-year-old seems high enough that Bruce Arena would be remiss not to give him a look. As it grows increasingly obvious that Jermaine Jones shouldn't start in the central midfield with Michael Bradley and now that Sebastian Lletget is sidelined for the next six months, there seems to be an opening for Roldan to get a look.
Roldan plays with a seemingly endless supply not just of energy, but of confidence as he roams around and looks for ways to get involved in the action. He led Seattle in shots Friday, completed most of his passes and was a key player. Although the Sounders play in a different setup than Arena probably will have the USMNT, Roldan's ability on both sides of the ball makes him a good candidate for the USMNT's next camp. If Roldan keeps playing like he did on Friday, his first senior USMNT opportunity should come sooner rather than later.
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Jones has a chance to break through for Atlanta and he proved it
When Kenwyne Jones, a big target striker from Trinidad & Tobago, was announced as one of Atlanta United's earliest signings, it seemed clear-cut that he would be their No. 9 on the field. That didn't happen as Martinez later earned the spot. But now with Martinez out, the spot looks ripe for Jones to take, and Jones proved he can fight for it on Friday.
Jones, another player being rested after the international break, came on as a late substitute, but within 10 minutes he produced Atlanta's nicest chance all night. It was only a desperate attempt from Roldan to throw his body in the way that stopped it. With more time on the field, Jones might've done more and it's a good bet we will see him playing a bigger role next week. With the little time he got on Friday – less than 15 minutes – he earned a chance to start.