Leandro Gonzalez Pirez
League Games Played: 37 Appearances, 37 Starts
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez built on what was clearly a successful first season in MLS in 2017 and formed himself into one of the leagues premier defenders by the conclusion of Atlanta United’s MLS Cup championship run. While Michael Parkhurst took most of the plaudits and column inches from national media, perhaps it was Gonzalez Pirez who should’ve been the Atlanta defender nominated for MLS Defender of the Year. Aside from missing a couple games due to suspension from bookings, LGP started every other game for Atlanta United this season.
What went right this season: What can often be overlooked is Gonzalez Pirez’s consistency — both in performance and in availability. His reliability is something that can easily be taken for granted, and perhaps we’ll appreciate it much more in the future whenever he suffers a muscle strain that keeps him out for at least 4-6 weeks. I wonder how Atlanta United would have functioned without him, as Tata Martino tasked LGP with as much responsibility as anyone in the side in carrying out his philosophy of playing the ball out of the back. He’s simply indispensable.
What he needs to improve on: Pretty simple here. He needs to work on not getting booked so much. LGP was on the brink of missing two games this season due to yellow-card accumulation alone, finishing with 9. In 2017, he wasn’t so fortunate, picking up 10 yellow cards and missing two games to accumulation. Not all of a center back’s bookings are avoidable. Sometimes it’s them who must go into the book to cover for a midfielder’s mistake in front of them. But LGP himself pointed to this area as needing improvement after last season, and if he has one disappointment from 2018, it’s not improving as much as he’d have liked here.
What role will he play in 2019: It’s hard to see his role changing at all barring something unforeseen happening. He’s absolutely critical to Atlanta United despite Tata Martino’s departure. Whoever replaces him in 2019 will surely be as dependent on LGP as Martino was.