The rumor mill has finally ground out its result: Tata Martino is officially leaving Atlanta United at season’s end. At this point no one is really surprised, but the question is why announce it now with the critical final regular season game looming and the playoffs just two weeks away?
If you consider the team’s performance against Chicago on Sunday I think there are good reasons to do so. Notwithstanding the absences of Miguel Almiron (also subject to rumors) and Tito Villalba, the team barely won a game it should have cruised through. As much as players and clubs try to deny it, this kind of uncertainty feeds the news cycle/social media insanity and causes a huge distraction. The players may have already known what was going to happen, but that would not stop the media barrage. This will without question get into the players’ heads. I believe it showed on Sunday.
The uncertainty over Tata is now gone. The rumors are now established fact. While there may still be some demand for reaction from the players, it is likely to be less stressful than dealing with the will he/won’t he nonsense. Instead they can focus their energies on what is more important. Namely, winning this coming Sunday and surging into the playoffs with the Supporters’ Shield in the trophy cabinet (or, at least, on Robyn Saghini’s mantelpiece) and the MLS Cup in the crosshairs. Indeed, this may even give the team some additional motivation: get a trophy for Tata before he leaves.
And, for that matter, for Miggy. Let’s not forget that there’s another rumor mill turning. Which is another reason to announce. Two of them going at the same time was simply too much to handle. The pressure is not entirely off, of course, but it has at least eased by half.
Separate from this, another good reason to announce is to allow the search for Tata’s replacement to go full steam ahead. After all, it would seem odd to be doing that with an incumbent head coach in a playoff race and would cause even more distraction. Moreover, if the team is targeting Guillermo Barros Schelotto (which, in my opinion, they absolutely should be) they need to be fully engaged in courting him. Rumors are swirling around GBS, too, notably that the LA Galaxy are also pursuing him, and the competitive nature of the chase makes it even more important that the Atlanta front office have their full attention on the matter.