Position: Attacking Midfielder
2021 League Games: Started 30 of 32 MLS appearances, 9 goals/5 assists (2nd on team), 2nd most fouled in MLS at 104.
What Went Right In 2021
Let’s start with 2020. Marcelino Moreno arrived at Atlanta United as a Designated Player for a team where nothing seemed to be going right, bringing a much needed steadiness to a depleted, limp attack. Like everything else that year, time was a bit of a lie and he only played in five league matches that season, winding up with two goals and an assist. He continued this momentum in 2021 as the season started; he stood steadfast in the lineup while Josef had international call-ups and recovering knee issues and Barco struggled with consistency before playing for Argentina at the Olympics.
Yet, there was Atlanta United’s silent bounty hunter, appearing in almost every match and seeming, at times, to be the only one shooting back. Moreno became the epitome of a hard-working, all-business persona on the field whose mere presence led defenders to try and stop him the only way they could: fouls. But every match he would keep the same mindset, and any defender he couldn’t slip past warm, he would just bring them back cold.
A Marcelino Masterclass™️ pic.twitter.com/NKMS4uSKgL— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 19, 2021
Moreno loves to move the ball up the field, ranking in the 98th percentile in progressive carries, 77th in progressive passes, and 91st in dribbles completed. He also sits in the 92nd percentile in shot-creating actions amongst his peers, at almost 5 per match, and all that is on top of being fouled the second most in MLS in 2021. Therefore, it is absolutely baffling to hear the criticism of “he’s too selfish.” Certainly no fan or pundit levied that harshness when he scored the game-winning goal on a header in the 94th minute at the first match in which fans were fully allowed back in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The word selfish wasn’t even mentioned when Moreno scored this absolute blaster shot that was so beautiful it dropped teammate Anton Walkes to the grass in awe.
None of those words were mentioned when Moreno was literally the only one breaking his back to carry the team as if he were The Mandalorian carrying Baby Yoda across Tatooine, so why now?
Maybe it’s because he’s the quiet one, the easy scapegoat to cover up the Five Stripes’ lack of creativity and productivity in the final third in 2021. Yes, he absolutely turned the ball over his fair share, but if he’s actively driving the ball forward and he has no help, of course there’s a statistically high chance he’ll turn the ball over. That blame should fall on the smorgasbord of coaching changes that 2021 brought for Atlanta United, and Moreno should probably be given a lot more credit for simply making things happen when no one else could.
Marcelino Moreno was undoubtedly vital to the team’s success in 2021, and staying true to his lone-wolf personality he always kept it short and sweet with the media. However, it was in an optimistic post-match press conference after the team’s fourth consecutive win last year where he dropped the line that just cemented everything about his work ethic and personality together in the best way. For readers who don’t know, it explains all of the aforementioned Star Wars references. “This is the way.” - Marcelino “Mando” Moreno
2022 Season Outlook
“Mando” suffered a late-season foot injury that plagued him going into the offseason, and he played in none of Atlanta United’s preseason matches. He’s been listed as day-to-day for quite some time dealing with “an injury to his foot,” so math dictates there’s at least a 50% chance it’s the same foot. You’re welcome.
In all seriousness, it’s unclear if the foot injury is particularly bad or if Pineda and staff are just being extremely cautious with the understanding of the sheer amount of time Moreno could put in this season. Abundantly cautious is good in the preseason, there’s no reason to be otherwise.
That being said, the days of Mando having to shoulder the team’s goals slipped away as 2021 progressed, and now that Atlanta has a more balanced, healthy squad it’s likely he sees more rest this season. Once healed he’ll certainly be a starter for a majority of games as a part of MAMA, but it’s doubtful he’ll be run ragged like he was by the end of last year’s campaign. He could be subbed off (or on), with Jake Mulraney/Caleb Wiley/Tyler Wolff entering and Thiago Almada/Wolff slotting over more centrally, all of which could provide a refreshing burst of speed after defenses deal with Moreno’s antics for 60+ minutes.
Since Moreno hasn’t been involved in any preseason matches, it’s somewhat difficult to say how he’ll adapt to the new formation and style that Pineda has implemented. Based on half hope and half educated-guess, though, Mando will probably work similarly to how he did last season. He loves to get forward but has no issues receiving the ball deep to start working up the field, and he naturally gravitates to about 5 yards outside the top of the box. If the preseason has shown anything, it’s that Moreno’s natural position will likely conform with what Pineda wants from his attacking midfielders.
With the home opener just hours away, it’s doubtful the supporters see Mando for at least another couple of weeks. He’ll almost certainly need to work on fitness, at least to a degree, though he may slip into the 18 at some point and surprise everyone. Even with the predicted less minutes, a solid 6 goals and 8 assists seems like good odds for him this season. Needless to say, the Five Stripes will be better when he’s on the field.
This is the way.