Welcome to the Morning After the Morning After. Rather than hastily writing about the events of this week’s Atlanta United match and other events around the league, we want to bring you the kind of well-reasoned, thoughtful analysis of both Atlanta United and the rest of the league that comes from sitting things out for a day or two. Now that we’re two days removed from a 3-0 stomping of Colorado, I’m actually feeling pretty great thanks for asking.
Atlanta United Thought of the Week
“Time’s arrow neither stands still nor reverses. It merely marches forward.”
Not to be dramatic, but Atlanta United fans were forced to stare down the barrel of the looming eyes of mortality over the last week. Most fans have reckoned with the imminent transfer of Miguel Almiron to some unknown exotic land like Burnley, but (and I may be projecting here) rumors of Tata Martino’s potential exodus from Atlanta hit heavy. Almiron is phenomenal but maintaining major aspects of the club’s culture created and instilled by Tata feels like a loftier task than replacing production in the midfield.
There’s no reason to expect Darren Eales and the front office to fail in their search and selection for the team’s second manager when the time comes and recent history suggests they’ll make a choice that leaves the rest of the league envious. But the doomsday scenarios are there and free to play out in your mind uninhibited. Comments from national media on the struggles of the two New York teams to sustain playing styles and success do nothing to curtail doom-infested visions of hiring Caleb Porter and finishing below Orlando City for the next ten years while we trade for, I don’t know, Giles Barnes and have the roster eventually distill until Barnes is starting and ends the season as our leading scorer with five goals in 30 games at age 38.
Anyway, back to Almiron. There’s a simple truth that applies to most of our South American players, but maybe most to Almiron: They wouldn’t have heard of Atlanta without El Tata.
Almiron wrote about Tata for The Player’s Tribune almost a year ago.
Play for Atlanta. It was surreal to hear him say that. Because before this season, Tata had as much connection to Atlanta as I did. Zero. And here’s the thing you need to understand: Tata is a legend. Legend is an understatement, actually. He’s an idol to so many of us in South America. He managed Cerro Porteño, a Primera División club in Asunción, Paraguay — where I grew up — and led it to a league title. He’s also managed Barcelona and the Argentine national team. But what so many of us — specifically Paraguayans — remember him for is 2010. That was the year he was the manager for Paraguay at the World Cup in South Africa, when we made it to the quarterfinals. I was only 16 years old at the time, but it was all anyone could talk about around our neighborhood. And El Tata was the man behind it all. I watched our final match with almost everyone I knew. What I remember most is that, right after the match ended — we lost 1–0 to Spain — one of my friends looked around the room and said, “Man, imagine if Tata was coaching us some day? How cool would that be?”
How many managers in the world carry that kind of weight? Few could have come to an expansion MLS team and established the model for success Atlanta United has used to create a side on pace to break the league record for points in its second season. Almiron moving on to Europe is the final step of that process. Atlanta’s promise to act as an intermediary for young talent to bigger stages was only going to succeed with a manager who could convince players beyond a surface level pitch that a transition to a major club was not only possible but the inevitable next step provided they followed direction.
The talent Atlanta succeeded in bringing in during its first two years may be the defining characteristic of Martino’s time in the South. The question this club may suddenly be careening down a mountainside toward should Martino leave is whether or not Atlanta United has established itself as an organization that young international players still view as a direct line to soccer’s top leagues regardless of El Tata’s presence. If that perception leaves with Tata, the talent pipeline does too and the front office will need to make a major splash by signing a manager with an international clout level approaching Martino’s.
For the first time since the inaugural match, the club could be entering a period of uncertainty. We don’t know if all this is sustainable. We never have, but now the fan base will have to look that thought in the eye. It’s frightening. But I trust the front office wholeheartedly to make a hire that fits in and improves upon the culture Tata helped define.
Or, you know, they could sign Caleb Porter.
Atlanta United Tweet of the Week
Atlanta United Quote of the Week
“I thought his attitude was great when he came on and it was nothing more than a decision not to start him. The fact that Colorado plays a high line and is compact, I thought it would be better to start another forward instead of a midfielder to try and take advantage of the wings and get in behind the centerbacks.” - Tata on Ezequiel Barco
Atlanta United Questions of the Week
Hell, I write the 5 thoughts column and didn’t have thoughts about this game https://t.co/nPjaG33jrK— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) September 16, 2018
MLS Tweet of the Week
phang was my lab partner freshman year dude almost blew up a centrifuge by putting everclear in it https://t.co/5g0IentQM3— CK (@cranekicker) September 10, 2018