Going into the club’s inaugural season, Atlanta United fans will finally get to witness their new club playing soccer in competitive matches. In terms of how the squad will line up, and how they will play is pure speculation at this point. However, estimates can be made based on head coach Gerardo Martino’s past, as well as the previous statistical output of the players currently on the roster.
What is undeniable, and perhaps glaringly obvious is the lack of depth at the striker position. Kenwyne Jones and Brandon Vázquez are the two pure strikers under contract at ATL United presently. Given Jones’ age, it’s unlikely that he’ll be making gut-busting runs, more likely he’ll be a poacher and extremely effective target man. With the high amount of wingers and attacking midfielders ATL UTD currently possesses, they can certainly compensate for Jones’ lack of mobility.
However, looking back on recent teams Tata has managed, he does not always use what would be considered “traditional” number 9 in terms of a more physical player. At Barcelona in 2013-14, his forward line was a combination of Messi, Neymar, Alexis and Pedro, all great players, but none that would be categorically strikers. With Argentina, at the Copa America Centenario, he opted for Sergio Agüero most games over Gonzalo Higuain.
If Tata decides to have Atlanta’s central defenders pushing high up the field and take responsibility for passing and starting attacking moves, as he has previously, he has good personnel for that strategy. Michael Parkhurst and Mikey Ambrose in particular have very good statistics when it comes to their average passes per games, with 50.9 and 37 respectively.
This may have simply been preference, but there is a theme of fast, slight of build strikers being used by Tata. Undoubtedly, Kenwyne Jones will be important for Atlanta in their first season, and very useful for Martino, but it is worth considering if one of the players that have played on the wing in the past may be moved to the middle.
Should Atlanta choose to bring in another player to play in the striking role, it would provide much more stability to the squad if and when injuries occur. One name mentioned recently in the press is Torino’s Josef Martínez, a 23-year-old striker from Venezuela. Andrea Belotti’s form this season for Torino has limited the playing time of Martínez, who has only made four starts this season in Serie A. The rumored fee of $5.8 million would represent a large investment, but Martínez would be quality in a position where it is needed for Atlanta.
A lot will come down to who flourishes in this team, there’s no squad place guaranteed to anybody, no owed loyalty to a long-serving player, so whoever can make MLS their own and perform will be in the team. Plus, there’s some extremely exciting attacking talent in this team, which could bring some fantastic viewing for fans of the new club.
There’s going to be a lot of trial and error with this team, plain and simple. Tata, these new players, will need time to adjust to the league. Things won’t work straight away, but frankly there are not many more experienced coaches in MLS than Atlanta has in Tata, and seeing how his side performs is eagerly awaited.