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Atlanta United’s attackers must step up in Miguel Almiron’s absence

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Next man up, or whatever.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Orlando City SC Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

If it feels like we’ve been here before it’s because we have. Miguel Almiron has gone down with an injury during the stretch run of the season for the second straight year. While no official announcement has been made regarding the severity of the injury, (Editor’s note: He’s just been announced as week-to-week.) all signs point to a re-occurrence of the hamstring injury that sidelined him in 2017 (Editor’s note: It is.). Tata Martino seemed pretty confident in his post-game press conference that his No. 10 would be out for at least the final two Supporters’ Shield-deciding matches of the regular season.

With Atlanta United’s primary playmaker out of action, it will be up to several of the team’s other attackers to fill the production void and help Josef Martinez find the back of the net. Here’s a look at a few of them and what they need to do to minimize the effect of Almiron’s absence as much as possible.

Ezequiel Barco

When examining the team without Miggy, it makes most sense to start with the player who will likely replace him in the lineup. Barco is the obvious attacker to take up the spot in the middle of the attack. Regardless of which side of The Great Barco Schism (TM) you’re on, the fact is, it’s up to him to pull the strings now.

This creates an interesting situation for Tata Martino’s attack. When it comes to style, Barco and Almiron are nearly polar opposites. While Miggy is as direct as they come, Barco is overly patient and calculated in his play-making efforts. How will this stylistic difference affect the likes of Josef Martinez — who has been used to the frantic, breakneck approach of his Fusion Brother for nearly two years now?

We can debate Barco’s ability to produce in the attacking end until we all turn blue in the face, but the fact is, it’s his time to shine. This is why you paid all that money for him. He’s getting handed the keys at the most crucial point of the season. Regardless of his age or previous performances, it’s up to him to show what he can do now.

Tito Villalba

With Miggy’s dynamism taken away, Atlanta’s attack needs some spark. We all know Tito Villalba has plenty of that to offer. The problem is that he’s not consistent in his ability to provide those moments of brilliance in the final third. He goes missing for extended stretches, and other times, wastes good opportunities.

In an ideal world, Tito would take it upon himself to play a bigger role in the attack with Miggy out. Whether that involves playing more centrally or taking more risks with his shot selection, just be more involved. He showed he can provide that moment of magic with a lovely assist on Julian Gressel’s game-winning goal after Almiron departed on Saturday. Now we just need to see more of that and more often.

Julian Gressel

We all know that Gressel can play pretty much any position on the field. If the team finds itself struggling to create, perhaps we could see the German shift into a more central role. Gressel has 14 assists on the season (tied with Almiron for the team lead) and while most of those have come from the right flank, we’ve seen him create from a central spot on occasion — Josef’s record-breaking goal against Orlando City being a prime example. It’s impossible to say how the lineup will be shaken up by Miggy’s injury, but you just know Gressel will find a way to make impact like he’s done all season.

Darlington Nagbe

One of Miguel Almiron’s best abilities is collecting possession in the defensive end of the field and single-handedly transition to attack with a burst of pace and some trickery to get past a few defenders to create a chance. Perhaps one of the only other players who also possess this skill, maybe in the entire league, just so happens to be Darlington Nagbe.

We’ve seen these jaw-dropping runs sporadically from Nagbe since he’s joined Atlanta United just because he’s asked to play a more conservative and defensive role. But, there’s no doubt that he has this in his locker if you’ve watched him throughout his career. With Almiron’s explosiveness missing, perhaps we could see Tata allow Nagbe more freedom to join the attack and make those solo runs forward to create something from nothing.

Hope is not lost

Miggy’s absence, for however long it may be, is an undeniable detriment to the team. However, Atlanta United has the talent to fill in for him and keep the positive results coming. It’s up to these four individuals to step up and help Josef Martinez in these extremely important matches. It will likely be the difference between winning at least one trophy and disappointment.