Everyone knows that Atlanta United’s most important player is Josef Martinez. Usually when he’s banging in goals, the team wins and when he struggles, they don’t. Franco Escobar’s influence on the team’s results could be almost as important. While not an exact science, it almost felt like Atlanta’s success in 2019 could be directly correlated to Escobar’s availability and form. Early in the season when he was out with injury, the team was pretty bad. When he came back, the results started to turnaround. When Franco’s personal form started to dip in the second half of the season, the team’s did too. Then the playoffs arrived and Playoff Franco once again proved to be a vital part of the equation.
Here’s a look at an up-and-down season for everyone’s favorite beautiful fullback/center back/whatever back.
Games Played: 28 (25 starts)
What went right this season?
Escobar’s role in the team was a bit of a microcosm of the Frank de Boer era in its first year. Sporadic and unsure of itself. When Atlanta played in their 3-5-2 setup, Franco showed some worrying signs as an outside center back. Whether it was lackadaisical passing, poor decisions or just getting flat out beaten by attackers, there were points during the latter stages of the season where we were legitimately wondering what happened to him. Once De Boer switched to the 4-3-3 during the playoffs and Escobar played a more natural right back role he started to show why he’s capable of being a top defender in MLS.
What does he need to improve on?
Consistency. It’s as simple as that. He’s proven what he can do at different points in his three seasons here. Now he just needs to put it all together and have the season we know he can. If he does, he has the potential to crack the Best XI.
As mentioned earlier, this could come down to De Boer finding some consistency with his team selection. Just because a team can be versatile, doesn’t mean they always should. If Franco’s performances are linked to the position and role he’s asked to play, perhaps that could sway De Boer’s decision on which style of play to utilize.
P.S. It would also be cool to not have to hear the words “Franco Escobar” and “yellow card accumulation” in the same sentence every month.
What role will he play in 2020?
Assuming he remains with the team, Franco shouldn’t have any problem cracking the lineup as long as he’s healthy. I’m sure additions will be made to the roster this winter, but it’s hard to imagine enough quality being brought in to displace a player of his talents. The biggest question is, what role within the lineup fits him and the team the best? That’s something the manager and player need to figure out.
Overall player grade:
Regular Season Franco: B-
Playoff Franco: A+