Tyrone Mears is Atlanta United's starting right full-back. Whether you like or not. The former Premier League journeyman and MLS champion has quickly become a target for criticism by the Five Stripes Nation. Mears has been labeled "a weak link" and is often the first starter that fans fantasize about replacing during the transfer window. But Tyrone Mears isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
I've watched every Atlanta United game this season with a very critical eye. Tyrone Mears isn't a player that I'd prefer to see wearing a yellow penny, than starting on the right side. Now, I understand the flak he's received. Overall he hasn't been spectacular. He's been caught out of position on some big goals and has yet to put in a solid MOTM performance. But unless you're Dani Alves, that's a far-fetched goal to have for a right-back. Which got me thinking: is Tyrone Mears a prototypical Tata Martino full-back?
Atlanta United fans get a kick out of pointing to Martino's lone season at Barcelona as an indicator of how this team might play. For fun we've even compared our own personnel to the 2013-2014 Barcelona squad. "Greg Garza is our Jordi Alba." Ok, maybe. But no one has ever said that Tyrone Mears is our Dani Alves, because he isn't and he was never meant to be. Dani Alves is a winger that just happens to play right-back. Tyrone Mears is a traditional back four full-back. He's technically sound in possession and can play and position himself for the easy ball, making him a key outlet for a central defensive midfielder. And he's provided a few decent crosses this season, including the Club's first ever assist on March 5th. Don't pretend you don't remember that one.
I don't have any unique insights regarding why Mears was poached from Seattle after winning the 2016 MLS Cup. But I'm pretty sure Tyrone Mears isn't a player that Tata Martino inherited. He was signed by Atlanta in January 2017. Tata was announced as club manager in September 2016. So while we can all agree that Tata didn't expect him to be the MLS-version of Dani Alves, maybe Tyrone Mears is the Atlanta United version of Gabriel Mercado. Wait, who?
Mercado is Sevilla's starting right back. He was a starter in Tata Martino's back four during his last cycle as Argentina manager. Mercado's a tough-tackling defender who jumped to Europe after intimidating opponents as a young defender for River Plate. Martino's left-back was current Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo. A classy left-footed full-back that's not known as an attacking threat. Wing-backs and width are trending in world football, and Tata Martino is on top of it. But history tells us that Martino doesn't mind playing with full-backs that stay home.
Atlanta United has debunked just about every myth that’s associated with an MLS expansion team. However, employing players that have experience in this league is a myth they've embraced. Parkhurst, Larentowicz and Mears have invaluable MLS mileage and locker room leadership that Almiron, Carmona and Gressel don't have. Mears isn't the team's long-term solution at right-back, but he's proving to be a solid short-term answer for a team that still lacks depth.
If you've ever watched ArsenalFanTV, you understand the hilarity and fever pitch that consumes that channel. Players are judged. Tactics and coaches are destroyed. Passion turns normal men and women into raging disasterbators. That's why they call it the beautiful game, right?