Atlanta United’s 2022 season arrived to much fanfare with the exciting potential of an attacking threat consisting of some combination of Josef Martinez, Thiago Almada, Luiz Araujo, and Marcelino Moreno, a quartet aptly given the nicknames MA’AM or MAMA. In reality, injuries and formational necessities kept the four from simultaneously occupying the pitch for most of the year, but one of those names consistently led the team in minutes throughout the early- and mid-portions of the season: Marcelino Moreno.
Moreno entered the season coming off a stout 2021 year where he scored nine goals and notched five assists, along with a lingering foot injury at the dusk of the season that forced him to slowly enter back into the starting lineups in 2022. But what was his overall impact in the latest season? Let’s take a look at Mando’s effect on the team throughout one of the Five Stripes’ toughest seasons yet.
Minutes: 1,767 (30 matches)
What Went Right?
Moreno has been a divisive figure amongst Atlanta United fans and pundits since his arrival in 2020. Some enjoy his creativity, some despise his knack for dribbling. 2022 saw coach Gonzalo Pineda initially attempting to fit him and fellow attacking midfielder - and Newcomer of the Year - Thiago Almada into the same starting XI. At times, however, this forced Marcelino out wide as a traditional winger where he simply isn’t as effective. Moreno shines when he is allowed to play as a true number 10, or at least as an inverted winger, and it was admittedly tough to force both he and Almada onto the pitch simultaneously in a way where they could both exploit their strengths.
That doesn’t mean Mando was ineffective, though. He’s still one of the league’s best players in his ability to play through-balls and drop an assist on someone’s head. His dribbling is unmatched, and even though this does lead to some turnovers, that very rarely occurs in a dangerous area; instead, when his dribbling is effective it can pry open a defense immensely. He’s also ranked very high in various stats pertaining to progressing the ball forward. Anyone who has watched Moreno play, whether a fan of his or not, knows that his first choice when receiving the ball is a vertical run while trying to dribble past defenders, but he also isn’t shy about playing a ball forward. The counterargument is that while he dribbles he tends to keep the ball a tad too long, which ultimately can slow a counter attack as opposed to springing one. Ultimately, though, Atlanta United has a clever attacking midfielder at a relatively cheap salary, and one who still ranks highly amongst his peers.
What To Improve On?
Ask 100 Five Stripe fans this question and you’ll likely get 100 different answers. Regardless, Marcelino Moreno could instantly make a significant impact by simply adjusting some of the minute parts of his game. With Atlanta’s speed down the wings and tons of attacking talent ahead of him, it feels like he has the potential to be an assist machine if he could find a way to balance his talented dribbles with the accurate forward passes he’s known to drop; instead, it seems that right now we often see only one or the other. The common criticism often heard of Moreno is “he doesn’t pick his head up while he’s dribbling.” If he can focus a tad more on using the dribbles to break initial lines before sending the progressive balls to a speedy front line, it could open up amazing opportunities for other attackers.
What Role Will He Play In 2023?
This is a tough one. Moreno has been a player that accumulates boat loads of minutes since he arrived in Atlanta. The end of 2022, however, saw him on the bench for multiple matches in a row, and it seemed that he wasn’t fitting into Gonzalo Pineda’s immediate plans. When asked about this, Pineda mentioned that the decision was purely strategic depending on the teams Atlanta was facing at the end of the year. He also mentioned that Moreno was a consummate professional about the decision, but it does leave one wondering if he’ll still be in Atlanta come 2023. It’s also worth mentioning here the relatively recent rumor of Moreno wanting to head back to Argentina in a deal that consisted of Agustin Almendra heading to Atlanta, but take that with a huge grain of salt: Almendra rumors have been floating around since Heinze took charge.
Moreno has a contract through 2024, and at a $400,000 salary his output is a steal, even in an off year. Considering how much the Five Stripes are paying some other midfielders who haven’t come close to Marcelino’s production, and the fact that Thiago Almada may only stay with Atlanta United for the very close future, it would be a shame to offload the team’s only other true number 10. Therefore, if we’re throwing out predictions, Moreno stays in the ATL and though he may not see as many minutes in the initial parts of 2023, he’ll return to an integral part of the team as the season wears on.
Overall Player Grade: C
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