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Lessons from Tata Martino, Volume 3: Kevin Kratz & the Free Kick Throne

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Tata hints at a particular preference.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Kratz had his best performance as a member of Atlanta United last week, scoring two goals in just 20 minutes of action as a substitute. It wasn’t just that he scored two goals though. It’s how he scored them. The two free kicks came within minutes of each other and were so precise that it made surgeons everywhere proud.

Tata Martino praised Kratz’s free kick abilities during last Sunday’s post-match press conference, referring to him as a “specialist” on multiple occasions. When asked if Kratz should be the only player taking direct free kicks from this point on while he’s in the match, Martino seemed to hint that it has already been decided.

“This is a conversation we had last year because on the biggest teams in the world, the biggest figures are the ones that want to take the free kick,” said Martino. “A lot of times, they line up to take it and they don’t recognize or cede to other specialists on the team, especially guys who come off the bench or young players. It’s not very common that the stars let that happen. Last year, we had a conversation with Yamil (Asad), Josef (Martinez), Kevin (Kratz) and Miguel (Almiron) about this, and I think it is important that everyone recognize this is a great strength of Kevin’s...it is important that when he is on the field, that the guys recognize it. I want to make it clear that I am speaking well about those guys. We had that conversation, but the players deserve the credit.”

Atlanta’s star players ceding to Kratz’s ability is something we saw before both of his eventual goals last week, as Miguel Almiron had quick conversations with the German before ultimately allowing him to take the kicks with no further protest.

“Kratz is the one to take it,” said Almiron after the match. “He is the best free kick taker on the team.”

When Kratz doesn’t take a direct free kick, the responsibilities typically fall on either Almiron or occasionally Jeff Larentowicz, who believe it or not, is actually tied for second all-time in MLS free kick goals with 9(Sebastian Giovinco is the leader with 13, Javier Morales also scored 9). However, neither Larentowicz nor Almiron have scored a free kick with the Five Stripes yet. Kratz has scored three with far fewer opportunities.

The two biggest takeaways from Martino’s perspective on Kratz’s free kicks is that 1) Atlanta’s best players are willing to step aside for the betterment of the team and let another player do what he does best, and 2) Kratz has earned Tata Martino’s official Badge of Approval.

Let’s hope Kratz receives more opportunities in the near future to show off his unique skill.