Through an assortment of injuries and several key absences due to international responsibilities, Atlanta United have been forced to use alternative options in the attacking third. And the drop in production from some of the understudies has been noticeable to say the least.
Just a quick glance at Atlanta’s recent form, and the three scoreless matches for the Five Stripes in their last four quickly highlight where the issue is. Everyone has their take on which second-string option is better than the other, but often these arguments have fallen heavy to eyeball tests. Sure Cubo Torres does some outrageously silly things in his own penalty area, and Erik Lopez might operate better wide instead of centrally, but who amongst the unproven deserves the title of second-fiddle to Josef Martinez?
Let’s start with the obvious. Despite whatever mysterious reason is keeping Josef Martinez away from the first team at the moment, he should be the first choice. Let’s optimistically assume that there’s a little friction happening between the player and manager that is temporary, but once things settle down, Martinez will keep his spot as the obvious top option.
Of the eight players looked at, Martinez is second in goals per 90 minutes and xG per 90. He is also one of only three players to have a positive difference between goals and expected goals.
The next category below Martinez is, of course, the team’s backup natural strikers. This includes Jackson Conway, Erik Lopez, and Cubo Torres. All three play the position relatively similarly, though Conway tends to act as a target man more than the other two, and his play style matches Martinez most similarly.
It should also be mentioned that, in both attacking metrics Martinez was second, (Goals/90, xG/90) Conway was the leader. It helps that Conway has played such fewer minutes, so his stats are certainly inflated for the purposes of this exercise. Even with that, in the roughly 50 minutes he has played, Conway’s 3.27 shot-creating actions per-90 more than double Martinez’s. That is not a negligible amount, and if Conway was handed a full match, those actions will certainly lead to goals.
Torres and Lopez both lack specific creative sparks and it shows. With over 10 full MLS matches between them, neither average one attempt on target per 90. Both players also have a negative difference in goals to expected goals, indicating they are underperforming given the chances they have had to score.
Next are players who can play striker, but probably shouldn’t because they are better suited for wider positions or just naturally look more comfortable somewhere else on the field. This group includes Ezequiel Barco, Machop Chol, and Jürgen Damm. Barco definitely has the best output in this group, creating the most goal-creating actions per 90. Barco is also one of three attackers to create at least three shot-creating actions per 90 minutes. That siad, he’s unavailable for the time being while he plays in the summer Olympics, so he wouldn’t be of use until early August.
Damm, on the other hand, creates almost nothing, but a lot of that comes from that fact that he has played nearly all his minutes out wide. But even given that, he has been far from threatening, logging a .05 xG per 90 minutes. However, he leads in shot-creating actions, showing how keen he is to hand the ball off in the final third.
Chol’s issues seem to come from eagerness more than anything. Chol has trouble, more than any of the other attackers, staying onside. Chol is offside about twice per 90 minutes, almost four times more than the next highest attacker.
If Heinze is looking for the most similar striker to Martinez, Jackson Conway has done well selling himself as the natural replacement.
We are curious how our readers would rank the various options available. I think we know how most would rank their top two, so for the sake of some good debate, let’s hear your top 4 choices in order.