As newcomers to the deep south, Miguel Almiron and Tata Martino may not know it, but they had a “Come to Jesus” meeting.
In the south, the come to Jesus meeting is part intervention / part ultimatum / part passive aggressive therapy session. A discussion with a predetermined outcome. There’s an issue. We’re going to resolve it. Here’s how.
The week following Almiron’s performance against Portland -- highlighted by a pair of chances on goal that he (a little too) unselfishly attempted to lay off to teammates – Tata, Miguel and the coaching staff “came to Jesus” over Miguel’s reluctance to shoot.
They left the discussion with an agreement that Almiron would do more to find the back of the net. Then this happened:
Five goals in two games against two of the league’s top teams made him the first player to win back-to-back MLS player of the week awards since Sebastian Giovinco in his MVP winning 2015 season. All it took was a push in the right direction from Tata.
“When you have a player with such great qualities as Miguel, as a coach you’re trying to help him improve as best as he can,” Martino said through a translator. “So, we talked about him, about how we want him to shoot more and we want him to get into the area more. He’s a smart player and he’s been able to do that.”
To Almiron’s credit, he’s certainly taken that advice to heart.
“After the game with Portland there were probably two occasions where I could have shot,” he said through a translator. “People have told me since that I have to have more confidence and take more shots and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Almiron’s emergence as a goal scorer comes out of necessity.
Joe Patrick has discussed this in depth, but Josef Martinez’s injury has been a blessing in disguise. It’s forced Almiron to put the team on his shoulders and placed players like Julian Gressel and Jeff Larentowicz in positions where they’re thriving. Although, understandably, Tata is hesitant to admit the positives of losing the team’s best striker.
“The best thing would be if a player never gets injured. When that happens, you have to take it as well as you can and just try to keep moving forward. And that’s what we’ve done is keep thinking about moving forward,” Martino said.
Over the last three games, Almiron and Gressel have benefited the most from Tata’s forward thinking. Gressel is excelling in his newfound role on the right wing.
Gressel at 7.57/gm when RM. To put that in perspective, Almiron is averaging a 7.54 rating on the year and he had a 10/10 against HOU— Sam Jones (@J_SamJones) May 29, 2017
Jeff Larentowicz has an 11 each game don't @ me.— Sam Jones (@J_SamJones) May 29, 2017
Gressel and Almiron have had a symbiotic relationship since Gressel’s move to the right side. Gressel as the right mid (along with Villalba up top instead of Kenwyne) opens space for Miguel to move in the middle and allows Gressel to create clear cut chances for Almiron, something he did twice against NYCFC by getting to the endline and dropping the ball back to a newly reassured Miguel.
“When I see that in the moment I think about just getting into the box, because Julian is a player who gets into good positions,” Almiron said. “That’s what the coach wants, he wants us all getting to the box when someone gets to the endline so we’re all there in the right position.”
Almiron has been in the right position seemingly every time the last two games, and his teammates can’t speak highly enough of his play.
At least I think that’s what Greg Garza was going for.
“We just call him the lizard man. He just flies. He’s one of those lizard that flies on water. They don’t swim they just walk on water. I’m sure you’ve seen it on national geographic,” Garza said.
Garza – who opened training yesterday by sprinting into the middle of a rondo to slide tackle a motionless ball and might be the team’s resident spaceman – and his lizard description might be more apt than you think, but the left back eventually put Miguel’s success into more understandable terms.
“I think he’s faster with the ball than without,” Garza said. “If you had probably asked me at the beginning of the season I would have told you this guy has a lot more to show. With the talent we’ve seen in training, I think we’ve really seen him come out of his shell the past two games. If we can keep him on a high and have Josef come back in the next few games and do well I think this team has a lot to prove this season.”
Almiron, who’s probably just a better human than the rest of us, was quick to shrug off any praise and put the attention on his teammates.
“We train every week with humility and sacrifice. It’s not just me it’s the whole group working really hard with one another,” he said.
Whether it’s hard work paying off, a renewed sense of confidence, a better tactical fit, or all three, Miggy has his groove back. Josef will return soon. And Atlanta can’t stop scoring.
The rest of the league might need to come to Jesus, y’all.