Player Pool Depth Is Only As Good As Player Availability.
The definition of premature: occurring or done before the usual or proper time; too early. In my last post, after Atlanta United opened up the 2022 season with a 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City, I praised Atlanta's front office as they have now given manager Gonzalo Pineda solid depth with the player pool. Here are a few thoughts after a bit of an eye-opening performance in the loss to Colorado on Saturday:
Though I had obviously factored in the missing pieces due to injury, green card, or visa issues, I did not consider the domino effect of two more players being unavailable. Luis Araujo's hamstring injury and Ozzie Alonso's cardiac concern resulted in both scratched from Saturday's game, which moved the young George Campbell into the #6 role, with Alan Franco pairing with Miles Robinson as the two center backs. Considering Campbell's lack of experience at the #6, I thought he did well, but he is not exactly the deep pivot option needed right now. With more games in that slot, Campbell might be an imposing #6 down the road. With his physical attributes, I am thinking Dunga, Neeskens, Robson, or Makelele. Okay, I think too much.
Thankfully, the season is thirty-four games long. The season will provide Atlanta with a long runway to get their key players back in the fold. There were many 17's (Atlanta's rabid fan base) upset with the team's performance against Colorado on Saturday night, mostly due the high expectations set by the Five Stripes in their first three seasons. Here is the reality: no team is going to fire on all cylinders with as many as five starters unavailable due to injury and paperwork. Here is the list of unavailable players: Thiago Almada, Luis Araujo, Santiago Sosa, Franco Ibarra, and Emerson Hyndman. Though available, add Jake Mulraney and Marcelino Moreno to the list as they have had limited time to train as they regain their fitness. Once again, the Five Stripes have a limited player pool. For this Sunday against the visiting Charlotte side, add Miles Robinson to the list, who will sit out the match due to red card suspension.
I have the analytics from Saturday night's match, but I will save you a yawn. Saturday's goal scoring opportunities were limited to two good chances. Tyler Wolff and Josef Martinez could not convert, and one must wonder if the combination of inexperienced players surrounding Josef Martinez is a systemic problem...or is the system/shape Gonzalo Pineda is employing limiting their chances? Certainly, Almada and Araujo will make a big difference when they become available.
This was Alan Franco's first game of the season as he sat out the opener due to a red card suspension. He is tough in the tackle and good on the ball, but his match management and man-marking needs to improve, and improve now. As I have mentioned more than once, who is the on-field leader, other than Brad Guzan? Until the player pool is at "full-strength" you can only hope the Five Stripes get ten points from their next five matches.
Ozzie Alonso - sometimes we get caught up in the team and their performance and often forget that these players have some of the same issues we face with our families. Let us hope and pray that Alonso's cardiac issue is not an issue at all. Godspeed Ozzie Alonso.
Charlotte comes to Atlanta this Sunday afternoon. I am looking forward to this match as the Atlanta-Charlotte rivalry has bubbled up over the last few weeks. Until then, let us keep the people of Ukraine in our thoughts and prayers.
Gary Levitt @gary1123 justmytake.net
Photo credit: TSN.ca