That’s all we got from Tata Martino when asked if Josef Martinez could make a return to the Atlanta United 18 this weekend.
Martinez is undergoing evaluations every day until Sunday’s matchup with NYCFC and, even with Tata’s slight indication of improvement, is still highly unlikely to see the pitch.
It’s enough good news to give Five Stripes fans an ounce of hope, and, more than anything, it’s a reminder that there is actually a light at the end of this long, Venezuelan-less tunnel.
Hold On, Be Strong. Josef’s back soon, y’all.
Tata is suspended for Sunday after he viciously, and with malice aforethought, lightly kicked a ball back onto the field against Houston. Several people died or something because of this, and Martino was sent off, making him ineligible to coach against NYCFC.
Martino’s last contact with team will come on Sunday morning. The team will have a technical session in Marietta before heading to BDS, and from then on Tata will not be in contact with team. According to MLS:
A suspended coach is not permitted to enter the stadium tunnel area, Team Locker Room or field level until after conclusion of the game, at which point he may enter the Team Locker Room. He may not sit in the Press Box or grandstands. A suspended coach also is not permitted to be in communication with his Team during the course of the game.
Assistant Jorge Theiler will take over the team during the game.
Theiler is a long time assistant and youth coach but has first team managing experience with Paraguay's Libertad in 2004 and Spain's Cordoba in 2005.
Theiler also played with Tata at Newell’s Old Boys in the 1980’s. Tata says his own experience with the Argentine side didn’t help him put his foot on the ball the way he wanted to Sunday.
“No! I hit it very poorly,” Martino said through a translator. “That’s why I’m mad. Not because they kicked me out but because I didn’t hit it well.”
Tata was ejected for booting the ball to half field. Nice leg, coach. pic.twitter.com/unIxme28k4— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) May 21, 2017
We’re Going to Need a Bigger Pitch.
No one had a glowing review of Atlanta United’s performance in their 3-1 loss to NYCFC earlier this month. Two weeks later that sentiment hasn’t changed.
“That was our worst game,” Martino said. “That’s the only game so far this season where we were outplayed the entire game. We were farther away from playing our game against them than in any other game. Part of that was due to our mistakes, part of that was due to New York City playing well.”
While no one seemed to able to pinpoint the exact reason for Atlanta’s struggles, a tiny Yankee Stadium pitch didn’t help the Five Stripes’ get comfortable up north according to Tyrone Mears.
“In terms of how we wanted to play -- a general possession game where we’re playing out the back -- the pitch, in terms of dimensions, made the game really, really tight. New York were ready for that and you could tell they’d worked on that,” Mears said. “They pressed us really well and they stopped us from playing. Instead of us continuing to try and play out the back we were resorting to different things. When we went back to Portland we got back to what worked and were a completely different team.”
Atlanta is playing exponentially better since the 3-1 road loss and the players seem to have a renewed confidence in themselves and their playing style. Greg Garza says there is a lot of motivation to prove the game in New York was just a fluke.
“Now in our minds it’s a bit of revenge. We have to put it to them here at home and have the people here in the background carry as along,” Garza said. “Like I said before [the loss is] a game to put in the past and we need to show them exactly what they showed us in New York City here in Atlanta.”
If Atlanta is going to rebound against NYCFC, they’ll have to fight through a hellacious press that caused the Five Stripes to get away from their normal style of play in New York. If things start to go wrong for Atlanta, they’ll have to weather the storm and follow the game plan.
“New York is still going to try and press us and try and stop us playing. It doesn’t matter how the game is going we have to stick to what we know and stick to the plan,” Mears said. “We need to try not to make mistakes playing out of the back. We’ll try to have good movement and we’ll try to be aggressive.”
In addition to maintaining their style of play, Atlanta will have to slow down an NYCFC attack led by David Villa. Villa torched the Atlanta defense in the 18th minute of the first meeting for an outstanding opener that set the tone for the rest of the day. If Atlanta’s defenders can change their mentality and shut down the league MVP on Sunday, they say they feel confident in three points.
“I think in New York we gave him a bit too much respect. We have to take it to him this time and make him feel a bit more pressure,” Garza said. “He’s a game changer. He can change the game just by slightly moving, or making those diagonal runs and opening spaces to other people that are also dangerous on their team. He’s the one you have to take care of before anyone else on that team. If we can take care of him on Sunday then I think we’ll have a ‘W’.”
Keep Your Eye Off the Ball
In Joe Patrick’s excellent article on the tactics of Atlanta United’s back five (which I’m planning on referencing every training report for the foreseeable future), Patrick illustrates how Atlanta’s shape changes at the back in and out of possession. Jeff Larentowicz’s hybrid centerback/midfielder role is the most important piece of puzzle, as he jumps in the middle of the two natural centerbacks in a wide back three while in possession, and shifts to holding midfield role as the fullbacks and centerbacks return to their normal places out of possession.
It’s fascinating to watch the shape change throughout the game and somewhat startling to see just how wide Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Michael Parkhurst are while in possession. Against NYCFC’s press, Larentowicz will have an enormous role in between the two centerbacks. As the Garza and Mears move up the pitch to help lessen the pressure on the Atlanta attack, Larentowicz and company are the only line of defense if the Five Stripes lose possession.
“It’s difficult to face the press because you’re out of position,” Mears said. “For me and Greg we have to go high and if we lose the ball in certain areas then me and Greg are out of the game. It’s an important part of the game and we have to trust that we’re going to keep the ball.”
Return of the “G”
Greg Garza is feeling a lot better after his game off at Portland.
“At the time, it was probably a good decision to not make anything worse. It gave me a couple of days off and that was a big big help for me and I’m feeling pretty good now,” Garza said.
“I felt great [against Houston]. I’m a guy that plays as hard as I can every game and I think that probably wouldn’t have been the case if I had gone to Portland. I feel I’m at 110% percent once again and I’m good for this weekend as well.”