I’ve yet to watch Fernando Meza (or “Fermeza,” as he told us we can call him) kick a ball in an Atlanta United shirt. Yet I’m feeling quite confident that he’s going to mesh very, very well with Atlanta’s back line, and could even help Miles Robinson achieve new heights in 2020.
Last year, with Robinson having supplanted former club captain Michael Parkhurst next to LGP on the back line, Gonzalez Pirez joked, “This year, I’m more the daddy.” He was, of course, talking about his role changing in 2019, as playing next to a highly-athletic, highly-inexperienced partner in Robinson changed what the team needed from LGP himself. But we all know, LGP’s truest self is wild-and-free, and anything else is limiting what he could provide the team on the pitch.
Meza is, to borrow a term, a more natural “daddy” for Robinson. Frank de Boer told media members Monday that Meza hopes to become a coach in the future, which is exactly the kind of profile that’s needed playing next to an emerging talent like Miles. And despite Meza not speaking English yet (we agreed to do a linguistic role-reversal in six months were English media will ask him questions in Spanish and he’ll answer in English), he clearly has the social nature to communicate with teammates on the pitch. There might be an adjustment period, but I’m sure that Robinson’s (and to another extent, Brad Guzan’s) Spanish is strong enough at this point for this not to be an issue.
But it’s more than just the mental game. Robinson can learn a lot from Meza’s ability on the ball and how he helps the team build attacks. Like Robinson, Meza does not appear to be a natural passing-focused centerback, at least not one who is going to regularly ping long diagonals to wide players (though he’s certainly capable of doing so when needed). What Meza does extremely effectively, however, is something Frank de Boer talked about working on with Robinson last year: “provoking” the opponent (as de Boer calls it) by carrying the ball forward, forcing an opponent to close him down, and then exploiting the space left by the opposition with simple-yet-effective passes.
It’s interesting that my natural reaction to a player who I hadn’t heard of previous to his signing was immediately one of skepticism. That skepticism is derived from a fear of the unknown. You know, kind of like the old proverb, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Leandro Gonzalez Pirez had his faults, just like every player. But because we knew him, we were comfortable with those faults. When he’s then usurped by a relative unknown, it’s a scary proposition.
But talking to Fermeza on Tuesday allayed many of the fears I had. Again, I haven’t seen him play beyond the YouTube compilations, but the simple look in his eye — the confidence in which he spoke — was just the antidote for this skeptic.