With just barely over half of the 2017 MLS season in the books as we are at FIFA’s mandated international break, things have gone as well as you could have asked for Atlanta United. While some felt that the club would struggle in their expansion campaign, they have positioned themselves nicely to make the MLS Cup Playoffs in year one and possibly even - gasp! - contend to bring the silverware home.
That’s not to say Atlanta don’t have flaws, though. They have the tendency to lapse defensively and give up needless goals. Their set piece defending is an Achilles heel. While there’s signs of life in the area of scoring off set pieces, there’s still work to be done. But sitting in fourth and having a chance to host a playoff game, especially with how they’ve been able to develop a strong home field advantage, is a spot worth being pleased about.
So who is the team MVP thus far? Its unsung hero? Who’s had the best goal of the year as of right now? Here’s who I think is deserving*.
(*—In the words of my colleague here at DSS, Haris, I’m probably wrong.)
Midseason MVP: Miguel Almiron
When you see Miguel Almiron, you see someone that absolutely enjoys the game and that can reach the status of beloved Atlanta sports figures that few have in this city. His skillset is unbelievable: he can make absolutely breathtaking full-pitch runs just as easily as he can use his world-class vision to pick out a teammate and play it ahead for a scoring chance, with terrific striking, tackling and ball-handling ability to boot. He’s a true, prototypical #10 for this club, without which they wouldn’t be in nearly as good a spot as they’re in right now.
But what about Josef Martinez? Certainly, Josef has been unstoppable with his goal scoring ability in the matches that we’ve seen him. While he’s more than proven his worth with his incredible striking talent and aerial ability (and trust me, consider him in the Golden Boot race), I’d have to give it to Miggy right now based on overall body of work and the ability to change a game and make everyone around him better (along with the fact that he’s had a entire season’s worth of play thus far).
Unsung hero: Jeff Larentowicz
There are probably a number of players I could have given this to (Yamil Asad and Greg Garza come to mind), but the one that deserves this, for me, is #18 in the midfield. Not only is he a solid veteran defending force for Atlanta, but his durability, not only here, but at his previous stops, is impressive (does he ever get tired?). We’ve seen his versatility at work at times throughout the season as he’s been able to shift to give the team a five-man look in the backline. It’s tough to point to a weak game for him; if he’s had one, I can’t really remember.
Best save: Alec Kann vs. Colorado Rapids
No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, the club didn’t sign Brad Guzan to be embroiled in a goalkeeper controversy; he was always going to be the starter when he arrived. However, Alec Kann held up pretty well as the stand-in for Atlanta in goal before suffering a calf injury. That’s not to say Kann was perfect - he did have that notable howler of a giveaway against D.C. United - but he did what he was brought here to do and will be a solid backup behind Guzan upon returning from injury.
Kann’s most notable moment came in injury time against the Colorado Rapids with Atlanta clinging to a 1-0 lead. Colorado’s last-gasp corner kick was headed on frame by Joshua Gatt, but Kann was more than up to the task as he made a magnificent stop to preserve a clean sheet and ensure all three points for his side.
A save that secured an important 3 points!@akann90 | #UniteAndConquer pic.twitter.com/90OGKjW404— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) July 9, 2017
Best goal(s): Miguel Almiron vs. Houston Dynamo
To be honest, we had a lot to choose from for Miggy, but I don’t think there’s much doubt that a) he deserves to win the team’s goal of the midseason and b) this enormous bit of skill against the Houston Dynamo on May 20 should be it.
You're a bad man, Miguel Almirón.@ATLUTD's #10 does it again for the home team. #ATLvHOU https://t.co/rv9KC5IPWH— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 21, 2017
Just kidding - we meant this one. How does he do it?
Smashing it home, Miguel Almirón ⚽#ATLUTD 1 - 0 @HoustonDynamo pic.twitter.com/9mHhZlEwlC— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) May 21, 2017
Ah, never mind. Forget it. They were both legit.
Honorable mention: This bullet by Miggy in the snow game at Minnesota United FC back in March.
Best Goal #2: Yamil Asad versus New York Red Bulls
It wasn’t an absolute snipe shot from distance, and didn’t come on the other end of a full-field run, but everyone who was in attendance on March 5, 2017, will remember the first goal in Atlanta United history.
Not much commentary necessary here. Just watch.
Best GIF: Josef Martinez nearly getting burned by fire, and living to tell about it
We came oh-so-dangerously close to seeing an Atlanta sports moment™ strike a team that had been playing together for just over three months. We take you back to Atlanta’s 1-0 victory over Colorado, where Josef’s lone goal was the difference...after which he decided to jump on one of the pyrotechnic boxes behind each goal that shoots out smoke and fire. I suppose he forgot about the fire part.
TFW you want to feel how hot you are pic.twitter.com/pohGOKsjbU— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) June 25, 2017
Josef es en fuego, but he literally almost caught on fire against the Rapids. Good grief.
Honorable mention: Miggy’s shoutout to his wife, Alexia, that we’ve convinced ourselves is a shoutout to our fine city.
YOU CAN FIND HIM IN THE... pic.twitter.com/T2FzIFfLee— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) May 21, 2017
What do you think? Did I get it right? Did I miss the mark? Let me know in the comments.