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Yamil Asad: Atlanta United's underappreciated star

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Asad’s impact all over the pitch has been just what the doctor ordered.

MLS: D.C. United at Atlanta United FC Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The “Inside Forward” Role

Everyone knew of Yamil Asad’s talent from the moment he set foot in Atlanta. But it was Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez who garnered most of the attention coming into the season. But 12-matches in, Asad’s excellence should not go unnoticed, as he has excelled in a system that appears to perfectly suit his natural talents and playing style.

Tata Martino’s tactics require a lot from his players, and this is no different for his wide attackers, who we wants to play a multi-faceted, box-to-box role. In attack, Martino’s wide men are more so “inside forwards” than pure wingers. By moving inside, this helps to provide extra support in the middle of the pitch for the striker and central midfielders, while also creating space for the fullbacks to occupy out wide.

Like many of his other teammates, Asad has played his specific role quite well. His first big moment for Atlanta came in the opener, when he scored the first goal in club history. But it was two matches later against Chicago where we saw his adeptness to his position truly paying dividends.

After receiving the ball out wide in the clip above, Asad is always thinking about cutting into the middle, which forces the center backs and midfielders to react as the attacker comes their way. Watch as Almiron immediately looks to get played in behind by the dangerous Asad, and the combination of this movement and Asad approaching the center causes the center backs to briefly lose track of Martinez, who is soon in on goal after a gorgeous through ball from Asad.

Asad’s high level of comfort with the middle of the pitch also opens up space for left back Greg Garza, and the defender’s presence in attack only makes things harder on the opposition defense. Perhaps the best example of this was the below goal against D.C. United, which provided the loan bright spot on what was otherwise a very disappointing afternoon.

With Asad playing the inside forward position, he and fullback Garza are left with one-on-one situations against a stretched defense. Due to this, Garza is able to find the Argentine in the box with a relatively simple pass, and Asad does the rest, showing his talent with a fine assist to Kenwyne Jones.

Going Direct

We’ve discussed Asad’s value in possession, as he helps create space for Garza wide and helps to overload defenses through the center. But it’s his natural nose for goal and fantastic dribbling ability that makes him a real problem for defenses on the counter. And we saw a fine example of such during his role in the buildup to this penalty kick against Houston.

Quite clearly, Asad’s one-on-one play created the above penalty. And it was more of the same last Sunday against NYCFC.

Again, we see Asad skinning his marker and displaying his nose for goal, showing off that extra part of his game you can’t coach as he skilfully wriggles free from his marker, before playing a gorgeous reverse ball to Villalba.

Defensively

Known for his technique and creativity, Asad’s defensive work often goes overlooked. The numbers tell the story. For starters, the midfielder averages 2.1 tackles completed per game, an astoundingly high number for an attacking player. In fact, he completes tackles at virtually the same rate as defensive midfielders Carlos Carmona and Jeff Larentowicz, and averages more than any of the regular starting back four aside from Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. He also is tied with Larentowicz at 1.6 interceptions per match, representing the leading mark among AUFC’s midfielders.

Furthermore, Asad’s ability to win the ball back provides a unique opportunity in attack. While you’d expect your more defensive players such as Larentowicz and Pirez to complete a high number of tackles, most of those challenges result in Atlanta winning the ball deep in their own half, and not yet in a dangerous attacking position. But winning the ball back in wide areas can help Atlanta spring immediately into the attack. Just watch Asad’s fine piece of defensive work against Houston’s A.J. DeLaGarza, and how he the team is immediately off to the races after he wins the ball back.

Coming from a relatively isolated position after winning the ball from DeLaGarza, Asad is able to advance into the Houston half before he’s even challenged. And he’s involved again at the tail end of the move, showing his talent by taking the ball down in the box, and finding Almiron for a wonder goal.

Simply put, this goal doesn’t happen without the fine tackle from Asad. And considering his great success in the challenge this season, it’s certainly easy to foresee more goals coming from this type of defensive work in the future.

A Complete Player

Asad clearly needs to improve parts of his mentality, and avoid getting the silly red cards he’s taken so far this season. But as long as he can stay on the pitch, there are very few visible weaknesses to his game. In Asad, AUFC have a wide player that can excel in a direct or possession style of play, can attack with vigor in wide or central areas, and defends as well as any attacking player in the league.

It’s important not to underestimate the contributions of Asad, whose all around excellence this season has provided yet another dangerous and versatile element to the Atlanta attack. While many of the plaudits and attention will go to others, Asad has arguably made just as big of an impact as any.