The long speculated rumor of Jurgen Damm coming to MLS was announced as expected Wednesday when Atlanta United revealed the free agent signing at the earliest possible opportunity following the expiration of the player’s contract with Tigres.
With Damm arrives ... baggage (fireworks and El Pollo Loco aside). He’s a player that never lived up to the lofty sights many within the Mexican Federation set for him as he broke out with Pachuca in his early 20s. Now 27 years old and having seen himself passed over by Tigres manager Tuca Ferretti, Damm will hope he can revitalize his career in MLS for a team traditionally known for its attacking potency.
Where does Damm fit?
Jurgen Damm has clearly defined strengths and weaknesses that make his role very predictable. Quite simply, he is a burner down the right wing. His greatest strength — without question — is his straight line speed. He immediately comes into the league and can match or beat any opposing MLS fullback in an even footrace. Which brings us to his weakness — everything that happens after he wins that footrace. He’s prone to making technical errors crossing the ball and prone to making poor decisions with his service into the box. He’s essentially a reverse-Gressel. What Julian Gressel lacked in speed and dynamic athleticism on the wing, he made up for with smart, creative decisions and excellent technique. Damm is bound to leave Atlanta supporters ironically yelling “DAMN!” at times, but if he can just be threatening enough he can serve a role on the team.
Over the last two years, with the sales of some of Atlanta’s former burners like Miguel Almiron and Tito Villalba — and replacing those players with more creative midfielders who look to combine — the team has lost quite a bit of the explosive pace it was known for in its 2018 MLS Cup run. Of course, som of this is tactical, but thanks to Villalba’s injury woes last season, De Boer did not have much pace in his personnel. Even the players comprising the “supporting cast” — players like Justin Meram, Brek Shea, Dion Pereira — were not flyers down the wing.
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, now at Inter Miami, spoke about this shift in personnel last April as the team was still adjusting to playing with a new type of Designated Player.
“Miguel and Pity are kind of different players,” said Gonzalez Pirez. “Pity is more of a player with the ball. Miggy can play without the ball because he’s fast and runs to the spaces. Pity is more creative, more of [an assist provider].”
And this underscores exactly how Jurgen Damm can help the team, even without accruing bags of goals and assists. As long as he is a threat with his pace to get behind his opposing fullback and forcing that player to drop deeper, he can create space for his more technically proficient teammates.
This chalkboard is a visual representation of the tactical differences that a technical player like Ezequiel Barco and a runner like Damm present the opposition. A fullback marking a more techincal player like Barco might try to keep tighter to him, following him when he moves to more central areas to prevent his team from being outnumbered in midfield (blue box). But the fullback responsible for Damm would theoretically need to be more conservative with his positioning, creating far more open space in midfield behind him (yellow box).
During Atlanta United’s period of tactical stagnancy under de Boer early last season, the Dutch manager lamented the team’s lack of runners — often frustrated that Josef Martinez found himself as the only one opposing defender had to account for. Here he was speaking about Gressel after the team’s disappointing draw to start last season against FC Cincinnati:
“The injury to Franco was a big blow, because then you have to put [Julian Gressel] out there, and Jules plays a major role also in the midfield sometimes, and he’s one of those runners I expect to make unselfish runs.”
Damm could be particularly effective as a super sub, much like Villalba had been used in much of 2018 and 2019. As a tired defender who’s been chasing players around for an hour, the last player you want to see enter the game opposite you is one of the fastest players in the league.
If Atlanta United can put Jurgen Damm in positions to do what he does best, and for that role to better serve Atlanta’s other players, this can be a very successful venture for both Damm and the Five Stripes. Maybe it just requires a lot of unselfish running.