Atlanta United knows what it’s like to lose a top star. It’s not easy to replace them. Thankfully, the expansion side have built an extraordinarily deep inaugural roster with two other Designated Players there to pick up the slack for Josef Martinez when he went down with an injury.
Their next opponents aren’t so lucky. Ignacio Piatti has been one of the most important and productive players in all of Major League Soccer over the past two-plus seasons. He went down with a groin injury around the same time as United’s goal-scoring ace. His return is questionable for Saturday’s match, the first of the season for the Montreal Impact at their usual home, Stade Saputo.
The Impact are finding out that life without their superstar isn’t so great. TVA Sports ran the numbers and determined that since Piatti joined Montreal in 2014, the club have earned 0.8 points less in the 19 times the Argentinian hasn’t been available to play. They’ve also averaged 0.7 less goals during those matches. A very noticeable drop-off. His absence since the international break has helped matters for the Impact as they sit in 10th in the East standings with just three points.
Needless to say, Piatti’s availability for Atlanta United’s visit on Saturday will play a huge part in how the match plays out. Obviously you never root against any player recovering from an injury, but should he not be able to play, the odds will heavily tip in Atlanta’s favor to pull out a good result north of the border.
However, it’s not fair to focus on the negative. Piatti is one of the most enjoyable players to watch in the entire league. Even at the risk of him doing really awesome things against our favorite team, it’s time to look at a scenario in which he’s deemed ready to play.
While Piatti is normally deployed as a left winger, he doesn’t possess the world-class pace you’d normally expect from a winger like another San Lorenzo alumnus, Tito Villalba. Instead, the 32-year-old relies on his superior technical ability, super high soccer IQ, and overall savviness on the ball to trick defenders, set up teammates for great chances, and even score some top level goals.
If Piatti waltzes out of the tunnel on Saturday and is named to the starting lineup, it will undoubtedly be a long day for the right side of Atlanta’s formation. Tyrone Mears specifically will have to be extremely cautious of the playmaker’s intelligent movement and ability to pick out a killer pass. Having just come up against possibly the most dynamic player in the league in Sebastian Giovinco, the entire defensive mindset of the team should be in a good place if Piatti is ready to play.