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Final Exams: Jeff Larentowicz

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TOTALLY UNBIASED OPINIONS WITHIN

MLS: Toronto FC at Atlanta United FC John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been holding off on writing this. I don’t know man, it just seemed like a given that he’d be here next year. But I guess we’re here to look back and not forward. Sometimes that’s just how life goes…………………………………………………………………………………………..

Anyway, 34-year-old Jeff Larentowicz had a helluva season for an aging veteran that plenty of us had stenciled in as a footnote to the 2017 season prior to March. Larentowicz cemented himself as the team’s regular #6 and began to teeter on the edge of cult hero status by the end of the season.

Games Started - 31 Appearances - 34

Goals - 1

Assists - 1

Game Saving Tackles/Blocks/Intereceptions - 9,574,301 (rough estimate)

Effort given -

Heart - Full

Eyes - Brown, except on game day when they’re clear

Passing Success - 84.5%

What went right?

Larentowicz’s seamless integration from midfielder to central member of a back three in Tata Martino’s fluid 4-3-3 system (as shown here in maybe my favorite DSS piece ever) throughout the course of matches made him nearly invaluable. The simple fact of the matter is that when he was removed from that #6 role Atlanta United’s defense suffered.

With Larentowicz starting in a defensive midfield role, the Five Stripes allowed .91 goals per game over 24 games. In the 10 games Larentowicz moved to center back or entered the game as a substitute Atlanta allowed 1.4 goals per game.

The *Larentowicz Difference ™ * really showed at the back end of the schedule during the team’s best run of form in 2017. Larentowicz started seven of the last 12 games at defensive midfielder. The Five Stripes kept a clean sheet in all seven games. In the five other games Atlanta allowed 1.6 goals per game in two ties and two loses.

Larentowicz finished second on the team in tackles per game with 2.2, slotting him right behind centerback Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez who finished with 2.4. He finished tied for second with left back Greg Garza (again behind LGP who’s a good soccer man) in interceptions per game with 1.8, and tied for third in clearances with 2.2 per game.

Dude was unexpectedly unequivocally really dang good in a crucial role.

What does he need to improve on?

I don’t know? Being less old?

At 34-years old, Larentowicz played in every single game for the Five Stripes, starting 31. That’s not including the 120-minute slugfest he played in during the first round of the MLS playoffs. He’s in pretty remarkable shape for a 34-year-old with a lot of mileage and didn’t seem to trail off in any overtly noticeable way even towards the end of the season when the Five Stripes were playing a game every four days. That being said, there’s a breaking point for these kind of things. “How long will he be able to maintain a level of play that merits his inclusion in the XI?” is completely fair to ask. Which leads us to…

What role will he play in 2018?

Hopefully he has one. The indication right now is that he’s working on a brand new contract. If that isn’t the case or if the contract falls through, then after one year in Atlanta, Larentowicz is a free agent.

If he’s here he’s the #6. It’s as simple as that. Right now there are no other readily apparent options to fill his role. Chris Goslin is waiting in the wings but at 17 almost certainly isn’t ready to take over the spot full time. It’s equally difficult to imagine Chris “The rest of the team saw my salary and wondered why the weren’t making more” McCann or Julian Gressel filling the role. Maybe, they consider moving Carlos Carmona over, but he was a perfect fit in that second defensive midfield spot and perhaps isn’t as suited to fulfilling the same defensive responsibilities Larentowicz did.

In my opinion, either

1. Darren Eales and company have a plan in place to replace Larentowicz with someone currently outside the organization.

2. He’s coming back.

3. Tata changes the formation and system entirely. It’s not that far out of the question.

Right now your guess is as good as mine.

Overall Player Grade: A-

He performed at a higher level than any of us (probably including him) ever expected. He was a perfect fit for this club’s inaugural season both on and off the field and that will always be appreciated whether he stays or not.

P.S.

While I’m here, I’d like to address some questions I’ve been receiving in person and over Twitter.

Do you know where Jeff is?

No. Stop asking.

Is Jeff coming back?

I don’t know. Stop asking.

What’s going to happen to the tattoo if he leaves?

It’s not being altered in any way. The 18 will fit perfectly when ATLUTD wins MLS Cup in 2018.

Where’s Jeff?

Don’t rephrase questions you already asked. Stop asking.

Are you worried your weird fanboy jokes about him scared him off?

...yes.

Did you kidnap him?

No, AND I WOULDN’T TELL YOU IF I DID.

Are you ok?

No. Stop asking.