Former Barcelona and Argentina boss, Tata Martino, made his managerial debut in MLS at the helm of Atlanta United on a mixed night for the Georgians
If the 55,000 sell-out crowd at the Bobby Dodd Stadium was anything to go by, Atlanta is more than ready to embrace its new MLS franchise and for 75 minutes, Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino’s side looked equally up to the challenge. New York Red Bulls comeback may have crushed any hopes of a triumphant MLS debut for United but there was plenty to be optimistic about for Tatalanta.
Since Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank announced his plans for the city’s soccer team and the league announced United would be an expansion franchise in 2014, the buzz around United has steadily grown. Blank’s shrewd decisions and ambitious appointments resulted in a staggering 30,000 season tickets sold before a ball was kicked and subsequently Sunday night’s sell-out.
The announcement of Tata Martino as manager back in September was arguably the first sign of real intent. While the 54-year-old had only recently walked away from the Argentina national team job after consecutive Copa America final defeats and had been deemed a failure for his brief tenure in charge of Barcelona, it was a bold move that injected further energy into MLS’ newest club.
Ambition doesn’t equal success and however much of a name Martino is, his appointment was, and still is, a gamble.
Despite his lack of knowledge of the league and the language, Atlanta have backed Martino to the hilt and the Argentinian coach has delved into the markets that he knows best to deliver an exciting, young roster of talent.
Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron, a prime example, and who on Sunday showed glimpses of his enormous potential.
The 23-year-old was outstanding in Martino’s homeland in helping Lanus to the Primera title and looked destined for Europe prior to Atlanta swooping. While the youngster has it all to prove (and missed a glorious opportunity to probably put the game to bed) it was an exciting MLS debut and his pace and creativity in the number ten role will be vital.
However, it was another of Martino’s boys who claimed the historic first goal and so whatever else young Yamil Asad does, he will forever be etched in Atlanta United history. The 22-year-old hadn’t shown a great deal in the Velez Sarsfield first team but had obviously done enough to catch Tata’s eye and is immediately looking a sharp addition.
In a dominant first half, Asad along with Almiron, ex-San Lorenzo forward Hector Villalba and Venezuelan Josef Martinez produced the kind of dynamic and pacy football that will cause plenty of MLS defences problems.
Martino’s decision to go with this youthful attack and leave the likes of veteran Kenwyne Jones on the bench favoured his high pressing style and while it harassed Red Bulls for the opening 45 minutes it did leave question marks over Atlanta’s defence.
The central defensive pairing of Michael Parkhurst and Argentinian Leandro Gonzalez Pirez were often left exposed and looked susceptible on the counter.
While it made for an exciting spectacle, Martino will be bitterly disappointed with the two goals conceded and the manner of defeat.
‘A lesson learned’ were the sentiments of a clearly frustrated Tata at full time but there is much to be very positive going forward for Atlanta.
Martino has the core elements for an entertaining, attacking side that should provide plenty of thrills and potential upsets in this debut season. It’s worth noting that since the Seattle Sounders in 2009, the last six expansion sides have failed to make the playoffs in their first year and so instant results shouldn’t be expected.
The players, the coach and the club are still learning but with the massive support that was shown on Sunday night, United have a wonderful platform to build on.