Ozzie Alonso is sadly out of the picture for Gonzalo Pineda and Atlanta United for the remainder of the 2022 season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the team’s win over D.C. United on Saturday. So now, the obvious question becomes: what shall the team do — at all levels — to counteract the loss?
There’s no doubt that Atlanta United’s front office and scouting department has been hard at work identifying who they might be able to bring in to replace Alonso. The truth is, no one replaces Ozzie Alonso, especially given the Cuban native’s spot on the roster. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Doug Roberson reported this winter that Alonso signed with Atlanta on a minimum salary and occupied a slot on Atlanta’s supplemental roster, meaning he doesn’t count against the salary cap.
While MLS does not make it easy (if possible at all) to replace a player who is added to the season-ending injury list, it’s even tougher for someone with Alonso’s roster designation:
If a player on a club’s Supplemental Roster suffers a season-ending injury, a club may replace that injured player with a player earning the Reserve Minimum Salary irrespective of the salary earned by the injured player (e.g., if a Generation adidas Player earning more than the Reserve Minimum Salary is injured, he may be replaced by a player earning the Reserve Minimum Salary (subject to the Club Salary Budget)). The Reserve Minimum Salary of such replacement player will be charged to the Club Salary Budget.
Accordingly, a club must have Salary Budget space to replace a player with a season-ending injury on the Supplemental Roster with a replacement player.
So, in effect, if Atlanta is to replace Alonso at all, it will not be a player who is able to make an impact on the team to anywhere close to the degree that Alonso did. Perhaps a player from Atlanta United 2 might be the best option, but there are many considerations that Carlos Bocanegra and his staff will be taking into account.
This is where things get interesting. Gonzalo Pineda is now tasked with re-structuring his team in a way to mitigate the loss of a player who he’d relied on for every single minute in which he was medically cleared to play this season. Alonso of course played alongside Pineda in Seattle and both have a common understanding of the game, making his loss even more impactful as a leader on the field.
Tactically, due to players being able to play in multiple positions, there’s theoretically a limitless amount of ways Pineda could re-deploy his side without Alonso. For the sake of brevity and practicality, I will limit this to just a few basic options.
But before we look at some team shapes, it’s important to consider the news about Josef Martinez’s knee, and the assumption that he too may miss a significant period of time (or not) after he has his surgically repaired right knee re-evaluated by doctors in Pittsburgh this week. Basically, think of these more conceptually and not granularly.
This is the “next man up” approach. Leave as many consistencies as possible in the lineup and team shape. Without Rossetto (also missing the next ~month with an injury) Franco Ibarra or even Amar Sejdic will be required to play alongside Santiago Sosa, who slots in for Alonso. It should be said, Atlanta is in a fortunate position to be able to have a player like Sosa who is probably more technically talented and physically gifted (due to age) than Alonso. Taking the striker out of the equation, this is a very solid team — maybe even the best possible Pineda can field even with a healthy Alonso.
This is a reversion back to the shape the team played to start the season, and to be honest, this one is more down to any absence Josef may have as opposed to Alonso. Basically, Sosa is just going to be a straight swap for Alonso in pretty much any team shape. It’s a matter of putting the correct pieces around him. Here, Sosa can play a similar role to what he did under Gabriel Heinze, but from a holding midfield position as opposed to a central defender in a back three. Speaking of...
The team could potentially revert back to what they played for the majority of last season with Heinze having set up his preferred shape. Personally, I think this could work sporadically as a bit of a surprise tactic to throw at unsuspecting teams. But as we saw happen last year, playing in this shape can have a tendency to become too defensive. If the opposition can pin the team back, it can be difficult to get back on the front foot and playing proactively.
Santiago Sosa better have his toenails trimmed and ready to go because he’s about to do a LOT of running this summer. He is a like-for-like swap for Alonso in many respects. Honestly, coming into the season Alonso was probably looked at more as the guy who would give Sosa some spells off during the season after the Argentine ran himself into a sports hernia last year.
Another silver lining to the situation for the players and especially Santiago Sosa is the MLS schedule this year. With less than a handful of midweek matches, it’s far more feasible for a player like Sosa to play a maximal amount of minutes without putting the same stress on the body that he suffered last year.
Another player that obviously becomes much more important now is Emerson Hyndman. While Hyndman obviously plays a far different role in midfield, having more number available might allow someone like Ibarra to give Sosa a rest if he needs it. He is expected to start playing some rehab matches in USL relatively soon, and the hope is that both he and Rossetto will be back on a similar timetable (with Hyndman obviously taking a little longer and with some extra caution).
The bottom line is that while the news of this injury is devastating, especially for Alonso himself who could be forced into retirement, Atlanta is about as equipped to handle such a loss as any salary-capped team in MLS could be.