It all seemed wonderful. Mercedes-Benz Stadium was rocking, the chants were lively, the 17’s were rowdy, and Luiz Araujo had just scored the opening goal of Atlanta United’s 2022 campaign against Sporting Kansas City.
As he ran to the sideline he clearly winced at some pain and grabbed the bag of his leg; the beautiful run he’d made in behind tweaked something. That particular moment could be bottled and sold as the essence of 2022 Atlanta United. Glory, excitement...and then agony. Araujo would go on to miss about a month, and was the first of many injuries throughout the season. When he came back, he still brought plenty of excitement, but the goals and assists didn’t return in the way everyone expected.
I pegged the Brazilian Chef as the 2022 MVP in our annual Five Bold Predictions article on New Years Day (if you really want to laugh and/or cry, go read that one again), but his chemistry in 2022 just never seemed to mesh with the overall play style of the team. His four MLS goals (six including the U.S. Open Cup) and five assists in 2348 minutes just simply wasn’t good enough. It’s not all doom and gloom for Araujo, though, as he had some more playmaking success actually slotting in on the left, and we all know he has the capabilities and talent to put up huge numbers, so let’s take a look at his overall season.
Minutes: 2348 (30 matches played)
Goals: 6 (including Open Cup)
What Went Right?
The main tactical nuance that worked for Luiz Araujo in 2022 was when he actually played on the left side. He became a bit more of a playmaker coming from that side than a player who felt the incessant need to fire off his left-footed cannon from 22 yards out as he dribbled in from the right wing. He seemed to link up well with Andrew Gutman, Caleb Wiley, and Edwin Mosquera as the season progressed, and it still seems there’s something to be unlocked with that group.
Araujo is also clearly talented on the ball, no one needs reminding of that, and he was never afraid to take a shot. For a team that was severely underperforming in the attacking department -and whose defenders scored an absurd amount of goals in the season- it’s hard to be mad at a guy who is trying to put the ball in the back of the net, even if many of those chances were rather low percentage. In fact, Araujo was leading the league in shot attempts, but then he was also near the top amongst his peers in non-penalty xG per 90 minutes. Again...it’s the essence of the entire 2022 Five Stripes season, just a whole lot of garbage luck.
What To Improve On?
Finishing. If Araujo’s expected goals were reflected, even closely, in his actual goals scored, the whole tide of Atlanta’s attack would have changed. A close second in this department would be locating his teammates ahead when he’s on one of his patented fancy vertical runs. I’ll almost never give a player a hard time for dribbling on folks, but at times Araujo seems to get pure tunnel vision and forgets he has other options ahead of him. Just look at his dribbles compared to his progressive passes and pass completions in the stats above.
Lastly, Araujo received some of the most unnecessary yellow cards of the season for things like dissent and getting overly frustrated after being tackled repeatedly. It’s one thing to get angry when a ref is allowing fouls over and over, but Luiz unfortunately tends to sling the tantrums around even when he legitimately loses the ball due to a good tackle. If a defense can shut him down in the first half hour of the match, he becomes so irritated that he seems to subsequently disappear.
What Role Will He Play in 2023?
A passionate player like Luiz Araujo will benefit heavily from the end of the season. The point above about his frustrations on the pitch is a microcosm of the entire season. He’s a player who wears his heart on his sleeve and clearly got annoyed with the way the season played out. He needs an offseason to reset, put a bad season behind, and step back out onto the pitch as the MVP-caliber player of which everyone saw glimpses in 2021.
A trust amongst his fellow attackers will be also key to Araujo in 2023, but don’t look to any drastic, wholesale changes in his role. He’ll remain a very forward winger who can exploit certain strengths on either side of the pitch, but having chemistry with a striker alongside his attacking midfielder will go a long way to augment his confidence and his stats. He’ll likely continue to start matches by pressing heavily, though it may actually be worth toning that back to keep his legs fresh. Finally, don’t be surprised to see him chance the occasional number 9 role in certain situations. He’s a speedy player with great ball control, and that’s deadly to any set of center backs who get caught sleeping.
Overall Player Grade: D
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