Like many of you, I sat through what can only be described as a dull, lackluster spectacle Sunday night when Atlanta United drew 1-1 with Sporting Kansas City. Despite the late dramatics that secured the point for Atlanta, the game was the kind that makes you want to claw your eyeballs out of their sockets with a spoon.
That’s the nature of this league. Teams are more-or-less on a level playing field in terms of roster construction, and it’s not feasible to expect to win every time the boots touch the grass. Even for the best teams -- the Barcelonas and Real Madrids of the world — even these teams don’t play to their optimal level every week. Every team ebbs and flows through a season, and it’s not the fault of a manager, player or boardroom member. It’s human fallibility. Atlanta United didn’t play it’s best game Sunday night (and that’s being kind). But they picked up a valuable point that will count the same as all the rest come the end of the season.
If you’re feeling low after what you witnessed Sunday, let me offer you a ray of hope. This team has not hit it’s best form, despite finding itself in the middle of a 6-game unbeaten stretch. This team has battled attrition this season — injuries to top players, suspensions, hell, even our manager has missed time. If you think things are pretty rosy now, just think about this:
Atlanta United is one of the most successful expansion franchises in MLS history, and it's star DP striker has only started 27% of the time pic.twitter.com/W81kX5vuAa— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) August 7, 2017
That’s right, Josef Martinez, one of the most ruthless strikers in the league and the team’s second highest paid player, has only started 6 league matches this year. Yes, it’s unfortunate that he’s missed time, but I’m not worried about him being an injury risk down the line. This is the first time in his career, through his tours in Venezuela, Switzerland and Italy, that he’s missed a significant amount of time. If we have larger aspirations than merely qualifying for the playoffs, we need him fit and firing on all cylinders in the fall, not spring or summer.
But it’s not just Martinez’s injury woes that Atlanta has had to battle. The team was forced to play half the season with its backup goalkeeper, Alec Kann, after Middlesbrough refused to release the starting goalkeeper we had signed until the European season ended. Having one of the worst disciplinary records in the league, Atlanta has had to manage suspensions to some of it’s key players, and hell, even its manager for demonstrating his long ball abilities early in the season.
This brings us back around to the transfer window and Atlanta’s deal with D.C. United for veteran CB Bobby Boswell. Why make a trade for such an old player on a considerable amount of money? It’s easy to second guess, considering the center back position is the one that has been the smoothest sailing rides for Atlanta this season. Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez and Michael Parkhurst have stayed healthy and they are improving as a tandem. The problem is that the main backup to those two, Anton Walkes, has secured his place as the first team right back, and this move signals that Martino has no intention of moving him out of that position if either of the CBs need to be rotated. While this position didn’t seem like a glaring need, it has evolved into our thinnest position this season.
All of this is to say, Tata Martino and the front office know that while picking up valuable points during these dog days of summer is important, the team needs to be prepared to hit top gear during the stretch run. That means managing the squad’s health in the best possible way and adding insurance to the areas you need it most. Atlanta United is priming itself not just to make the playoffs, but to do some damage.