Atlanta media can’t cover soccer for shit. I don’t think they want to.
But they need to because Atlanta United is selling out all their games while the baseball Braves play to empty seats in their new Cobb County ballpark.
The season started well, but then went pear-shaped. The media has interviewed a few players, but Coach Tata Martino’s first language is Spanish so they haven’t asked him.
I’ll explain it.
There are two main problems. One, they’re not scoring goals. Two, they’re letting too many in.
But Martinez was hurt playing for his native Venezuela. They replaced him with Kenwyne Jones.
I like Kenwyne. I’ve been a fan of his for a decade, since he helped get Sheffield Wednesday out of League One. But Kenwyne does not play north-and-south. He plays east-and-west. You go into the corner, you hit a pass toward the middle, and he bounces it off his head into the goal because he’s taller and stronger than the players around him.
I call him a “big.” Most teams a decade ago played two forwards, a big and a small. The big guy nodded the ball down to the small guy who could get a shot through the defense, his back to the goalie. Think Shaquille O’Neal.
Few teams today play with a big. Instead they have three small guys who run through the defense or onto passes as I described earlier. When Kenwyne came in, it changed Atlanta’s style of play on offense, made it into something it’s not.
It’s not Kenwyne’s fault. He was signed before they got the coach. The coach got most of the players. He didn’t get Kenwyne.
The solution is to get rid of Kenwyne. He still has value. There are still MLS players that play with a big, or that could use one.
One of the key defensive problems will also solve itself, soon. Alec Kann was signed to be the club’s backup goalie. He is useful as a backup goalie. As a first team goalie, not so much. He has begun letting balls go past him that frankly should not.
Alec is a local favorite. He grew up in the Decatur suburbs, a few miles from my house. He went to Lakeside High School, then to Furman. He’s a nice fellow who works hard. Much like Kenwyne Jones. One thing about most soccer players is they tend to be nice, hard-working people.
The Kann problem will solve itself when the first-team goalie arrives. Brad Guzan is the first-team goalie. Brad Guzan has been playing in the English Premier League for most of a decade. Most recently he has been with Middlesbrough. He is also the number two goalie for the national team, due to be number one soon. Brad Guzan won’t let in any cheap goals, he’ll distribute the ball very well, he’ll organize the defense, he’ll be a major upgrade, and he’ll provide Kann with the mentor he needs.
Now there is a problem that will not solve itself. This is the interplay between offense and defense. The center of the park, the engine room. If you’re familiar with the U.S. national team, the Michael Bradley position.
So far, Tata has tried three players in this role. Jeff Larentowicz is an MLS veteran, but slow. Chris McCann should be in this position, but for some reason known only to Tata hasn’t worked out. Julian Gressel has been a revelation – he was their second choice in the MLS draft of young players – but sometimes he has been hurt and sometimes he has fit in better on the offensive side, as a winger.
I am happy to leave Tata with this problem. Tata is one of the best coaches in the world. He has coached Barcelona and Argentina. He is a great man manager, he knows talent, he put together this team, he is fun to watch on the sidelines. He is the best advertisement for Atlanta sportswriters learning Spanish. If Atlanta got to know Tata, they would love him. In Tata we trust.
Right now, the team is in 7th and in danger of losing touch with the play-offs. But half the league makes the play-offs, Guzan and Martinez are on their way, we have the best coach and the fastest players in the league, all will be well.
It would just be nice if someone in Atlanta media would explain all this to people. But spring football practice just finished, and the Falcons’ start playing just 4 months from now. That’s all they care about.