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How will Atlanta United replace an injured Darlington Nagbe in the short-term?

The midfield has some major questions that need to be answered in the next few games.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Atlanta United FC John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United has been bitten hard by the injury bug. The club announced on Tuesday that Darlington Nagbe will be out of action 2-3 months with a right adductor injury.

Nagbe joined the club in the winter and while he hasn’t filled up the stats sheet, he’s added a calming influence to Tata Martino’s midfield. Tuesday, concerns about Atlanta’s depleted midfield were qualmed with the announcement of Argentine central midfielder Eric Remedi signing with the club. But he can’t join the team until the summer transfer window opens on July 10. That leaves Martino at least three league matches to make-do with the roster he has.

Until Remedi is eligible to take the field, there are several different ways that the lineup can be constructed to replace the valuable Nagbe. Whether it’s a 4-2-3-1 or a 3-5-2, the choices are very similar. Here’s a look at three different things to keep in mind as we await Tata’s choice.

What’s the deal with Tito Villalba?

As with any Atlanta United lineup, the conversation surrounds Tito Villalba. Martino says the reason Tito hasn’t been starting since returning from injury is that he’s still carrying some slight problems and isn’t 100% fit. He’s looked dynamic coming on as a substitute in each of the past two league matches. Has his status changed at all?

If he’s deemed ready to go, it seems like the obvious move is to slot him in on the right wing. That would then leave Nagbe’s spot up for grabs. However, if he’s not ready to go and is only fit enough for cameos it’s Julian Gressel who’ll remain on the right. That’s the first domino that must fall before we get to who actually is the replacement.

Gressel or Kratz?

If the scenario ends up being that Gressel remains on the right wing, this is pretty straightforward. Kevin Kratz is the most like-for-like replacement for Nagbe on the roster. He would most likely slot right in where Nagbe usually plays.

On the other hand, if Tito is ready, now you have a choice to make. Do you slide Gressel into the box-to-box role or do you relegate him to the bench in favor of Kratz? Each player offers something a bit different to the role.

Gressel is a more dynamic attacking player who can make powerful, late runs into the box to open space for everyone around him. He can also finish off chances pretty well if he finds himself on the end of one. The downside of Gressel in the midfield is that he’s not as calm on the ball as Nagbe or Kratz. He has a tendency of losing possession in tight spaces and needlessly giving it away in dangerous positions on the field when put under pressure, exactly the opposite of why Nagbe is so crucial to the team.

Meanwhile, Kratz offers you the same things Nagbe does, just at a slightly lower skill level. He can hang onto the ball in those pressure situations and keep possession moving through the formation. He can pick out a pass and his set piece prowess needs no explanation. The downside is, he’s not as dynamic as Gressel and won’t offer you much going forward.

The Miggy Experiment

While the two scenarios above seem the likeliest of solutions, it’s always fun to think outside of the box. Miguel Almiron is arguably the team’s most valuable asset defensively. Perhaps an option could be to drop him back a bit further to play the role Nagbe did. This would allow you to push Ezquiel Barco or Gressel to the attacking midfield spot, insert Villalba into one of the wing spots with Barco/Gressel playing on the other side.

This may be a bit of a stretch, but if you’re controlling 70% of possession anyways, why not have Miggy a little further back to protect against those troublesome counter-attacks. It also allows you to have one more attacking player in there to hopefully finish off a chance.


Trying to read Tata Martino’s mind is a dangerous proposition. However, if Vegas was taking bets on the matter, you’d be a fool not to put it on the Tito on the wing/Gressel in the middle option. It’s the most logical option and something everyone is comfortable with. But that doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee we’ll see that. We can only wait and wonder what Tata has up his sleeve until the summer transfer window opens.