Atlanta United’s 2018 season got off to as bad of a start as you could imagine on Saturday. A 4-0 loss against the Houston Dynamo left a sour taste in all of our mouths. While the result was frustrating enough, some of the decisions made by Tata Martino to finish off the disappointing match made the day even harder to swallow. Chief among them was the unwillingness to insert Andrew Carleton into the match and give him much-needed minutes.
Let’s begin with some prefaces. No, Andrew Carleton shouldn’t have started this match. It was fun to hope and wish after Ezequiel Barco’s injury, but all logical reasoning pointed to Julian Gressel getting the nod. You can’t fault Martino for going with experience for a tough away match. Secondly, while down 4-0, putting Carleton in wouldn’t have changed the game or given Atlanta any more or less hope of turning the result around. I’m under no illusion that the 17-year-old is a miracle worker or that his omission from the field was a reason the team lost. Thirdly, yes this is just one game and it’s not time to panic about Carleton’s whole career, no matter what the general mainstream media say.
Now that I’ve totally squashed all of your “well actually” comment responses dead (yeah right), here’s why Tata Martino electing not to give Andrew Carleton 20 or 30 minutes in this match was a mistake.
One of the biggest reasons that Carleton seemingly doesn’t factor into games yet is his lack of experience. Talent doesn’t seem to an issue for him, so it’s obviously his age and lack of professional minutes holding him back. Ironically, his only appearance in MLS came last season at home against the Dynamo during a favorable rout.
With the result very much sewn up by halftime, it stands to reason that giving the youngster a run out to gain some of that needed experience was a no-brainer. Instead, the minutes ticked away in the second half with no signs of Carleton entering the match. With one substitution already burned in the first half on replacing the injury Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, the other two were used on introducing Kevin Kratz and Brandon Vazquez, neither of which made much logical sense over giving Carleton minutes.
Martino said post-match that Kratz was inserted into the match to help circulate the ball with his precise passing. While that’s okay, that’s not exactly the type of change you’d expect from a team in need of four goals.
Vazquez’s introduction was even more of a head-scratcher. While he’s also young and dynamic, he’s had plenty of chances to gain that experience that Carleton sorely needs. Vazquez received plenty of minutes last season and knows what to expect at this level.
This was a big opportunity missed to get Carleton minutes at a level his largely unfamiliar with. That’s the biggest disappointing factor in him being left on the bench for this match.
A sense of “if not now, then when?” has inevitably crept into the minds of some when it comes to getting minutes for him in MLS this season. While it’s the first game of the season, it was a glaring chance to get him acclimated that went begging.
This isn’t about appeasing the growing narrative around the American soccer landscape of playing young players for the betterment of U.S. Soccer. This is about the development of Atlanta United’s most prized prospect and a player who has proven he has the skills and talent required to be a very good player for this club. At some point, the training wheels have to come off.
It’s not time to panic yet, but it is time to start asking “if not now, then when?”.