Signed near the end of the January transfer window, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez joined Atlanta United as a relative unknown and ended the season as a key part of the team. After a shaky start and some growing pains, LGP established himself as one of the best defenders in MLS. Not only that, but Lil Roo scored the first goal for Atlanta United at Mercedes Benz Stadium:
That might have been the most garbage goal that Atlanta United got all year, and LGP was denied better efforts than that, but it was still an amazing moment.
By season’s end, it was clear he had established himself as one of the best defenders in the league and, frankly, was robbed of not being on the ballot for 2017 MLS Defender of the Year. Looking back, this is fairly unsurprising as Atlanta’s defense was underrated all season. The Five Stripes only allowed 40 goals in 2017, good for 4th in MLS, and never allowed more than 3 goals in a single game. Anyway, we know he’s great, but let’s look a little deeper at how his season stacked up.
Defensive stats: 2.4 tackles/game, 3.1 interceptions/game, 3.9 clearances/game, .8 blocks/game
Passing: 83.6% successful passes (he’s a center back, that’s really, really good)
Clean sheets: 12
What went right this season: More than anyone could have expected. If Tata Martino was genetically engineering a ball playing center back to join him in MLS, he would have come up with LGP. I sang his praises back in April and what looked to be true back then was proven again and again this year. Not only was he stellar in the back as the defensive stats illustrate, he was integral in pushing the ball forward and getting involved in the Atlanta United attack. Nearly every game LGP could be counted on to make a game saving tackle and suddenly pop up in the opposition’s 18 yard box doing something to try and score a goal.
What he could improve on: Yellow cards. Leandro has to cut down on fouls that lead to getting booked in 2018. Last season he had his name taken 10 times and missed two games due to accumulation. In those matches, his absence was painfully obvious. First was the match against Orlando where Tata experimented with a three man backline much to the delight of Dom Dwyer and Cyle Larin. The other game was against Toronto, a match that Atlanta gave up a late lead in and missed a first round playoff bye as a result. Quite simply, there’s no excuse for LGP to be second in the league in yellow cards and he’ll need to improve upon that next year.
Role next season: Mark him down as the team’s starting center back and look for him to get the respect he deserves when the Defender of the Year award rolls around next year.
Overall player rating: A