Atlanta United has vaulted up the MLS standings the last two weeks on the back of playing five home matches in 15 days, picking up 13 points in the process. Here’s what we learned from Sunday’s seemingly routine 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact.
Atlanta United will need to replace an injured Miguel Almiron
The dynamic Miguel Almiron left Sunday’s game in the 17th minute after pulling up lame at the end of a long sprint, holding his hamstring. He tried to continue, but eventually was forced to leave and looked distraught in doing so. A sobbing Almiron is not a sight that makes you feel warm and fuzzy in the slightest. If anything, the tears served as a not-so-subtle realization that Atlanta was going to be without him, likely, for weeks.
Let’s start with the good news, which is that Atlanta managed the game fine without him. The team definitely looked physically gassed by about the hour mark in the game, but they weren’t short of creativity and potency in the attack. That’s the good news.
The bad news, aside from the fact that we know Almiron will be out for a period of time, is that he’s not alone in a group of players who have logged extensive minutes this season. Tata Martino admitted that overuse may have contributed to Almiron’s injury, and if true, doesn’t bode well for many others.
“It’s tough to say, but maybe,” Martino said through a translator after the match. “He’s coming off playing a lot of games with us and also playing two games with Paraguay. So he’s played a lot of games. But it’s also true that as a team we’ve been accustomed to playing one game and then a game midweek, but we’ve had a tough stretch of games, so it’s possible that could be another explanation.”
Whatever the reason is for the injury, what’s done is done. Now the manager nedds to figure out how to manage the squad through the remainder of the season to finish as high up the standings as possible while making sure the team is primed to perform in the playoffs.
Josef Martinez is Atlanta United’s most important player right now
Almiron’s absence after his departure Sunday means we got to see the first-team squad play meaningful minutes without the Paraguayan for the first time since March, away to Seattle. But the team managed quite well without him, and it’s down to the ever-present danger that Martinez represents leading the line for Atlanta. Gressel replaced Almiron and while he wasn’t nearly as dynamic with the ball, he was still able to pick out some of Josef’s dangerous runs, and all it takes is one pass to create a chance to score. And at the end of the day, Josef had many chances. He probably should’ve had at least one goal, but could’ve had two or three.
This isn’t a knock on Almiron, by the way. In my opinion, Almiron is a top-three player in the league and should be a leading MVP candidate. I think he has the highest transfer value in MLS right now. But because of the way this squad is constructed, Atlanta has players on its bench that can — be it individually or collectively — replace some of the quality Almiron brings to the table. Martinez, on the other hand, possesses traits that no one else on the team can bring to the table. His speed and intelligence, specifically. Atlanta looks like a much different team without Josef Martinez, but Sunday without Almiron, they still looked like the fun, goal-filled Atlanta United we know and love.
With or without Almiron, Atlanta is fun and we can enjoy that
We all want to see our team win a championship, sure. I get it, and obviously I never want to see Atlanta United lose either. But at the end of the day, living or dying as a fan based off of results is very transactional, and thus, a joyless way to go about fandom. Obviously that mentality leads to a certain fair-weatherness, but more importantly, you miss out on so much happiness. Supporting a team is not about building up emotional capital and exchanging it at the end of the season for __ place in the standings or reaching the _________ round of the playoffs. It’s about enjoying the moments. Liking a team isn’t about liking the results they achieve, it’s about the style, the energy, or whatever else the team brings to the table that brings emotion out of you. A famous player once said:
"The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom." — Danny Blanchflower
This is why we don’t need to fear about Almiron or no Almiron (but hurry back, please). We know, especially from watching the game Sunday, that watching Atlanta United is fun. And that’s all that matters. Anything else is icing on the cake.