Reality is finally setting in. Josef Martinez is going to be sidelined for quite a while. You don’t need me to explain how big of a loss the Venezuelan Viper will be for Atlanta United. There have been plenty of articles already written about the most obvious topic possible. Of course the focal point of Atlanta’s attack will be a huge loss. This fact doesn’t mean that the Five Stripes’ season is already over. There are plenty of signs that 2020 will still be a successful and fun season.
It’s Pity’s Time
Early on, one thing has been apparent, Pity Martinez is ready to prove himself to any and all doubters. The former South American Player of the Year has even admitted himself that he wasn’t in the right frame of mind entering MLS last season. We’ve seen a completely different Pity so far this season. One that looks ready to take the reins as Atlanta’s focal point as a playmaker and difference-maker.
Now that Josef is out of the equation for a while, Pity has to continue to make progress towards being that superstar player that many expected him to be. Early returns are very encouraging, but we need to see it on a consistent basis if Atlanta United are to continue their trophy-winning ways in 2020.
Many people, including myself, were pretty harsh on Frank de Boer in his first season. It was a difficult situation for a new manager coming into an established culture and way of life. A clash of ideas was inevitable. Season two seems to have gotten off to a much better start, as the players have bought into Frank’s ideas and everyone is on the same page.
Sure, Josef’s injury might have thrown a wrench into the tactical planning that’s taken place to this point. But the good news is that De Boer has proven over the last 7-8 months that he’s more than willing to adapt his playing style to fit the players he has available. While it’s true that the roster overhaul was partly due to Frank preferring certain on-field characteristics, he’s shown great flexibility. His idea to switch to the 3-4-2-1 to allow Pity and Barco to operate in ideal roles, even at the detriment of other aspects of the team, appeared to work wonders.
The system will likely have to change again depending on how the team handles replacing Josef at the striker position. But no matter how they do that, recent examples gives me optimism that Frank will once again adapt and find the appropriate system to fit everyone.
Trust The Process
Early in the preseason, when the lack of replacements for the hoard of departures were evident, there was some panic. But the players who the front office brought in have proven themselves to this point. Fernando Meza has stepped in flawlessly in the back and has been a much-needed calming influence and leader. Matheus Rossetto, in just 45 preseason minutes, showed signs he has the goods to be an impact player. Even Jake Mulraney has shown some very nice quality so far.
All signs point to the front office being on the hunt for a starting quality striker sooner rather than later. There’s no reason to think that they won’t find a productive player who will be able to contribute the needed numbers for the team to get results. Of course the replacement won’t be Josef — no one can be — but as long as it’s someone who can produce on a relatively consistent level, it should be enough for the team to be successful.
The Forgiveness of MLS
The redeeming aspect of MLS’ parity is that once you secure a playoff spot, anything can happen. We’ve seen it on plenty of occasions when a team goes through plenty of struggles, only to hit a hot streak at the right time and go far into the postseason. It can sometimes be a frustrating thing about the league when you’re a dominant team like Atlanta has been the past few seasons. However, in a situation like this — when a big obstacle enters the equation — it can be a blessing. The team will have plenty of time to get everything sorted and figure out how to win by the time they reach September.
This season is far from over. Losing Josef Martinez hurts immensely but the show goes on. Atlanta United still have tons of talent and will likely bring in more to help try and fill the massive void left by their best player. Success won’t be guaranteed. It will be a difficult season with inevitable ups and downs. But, there’s still plenty of reasons for hope.