April 7, 2018. Hector Villalba reacts after missing a opportunity to score in a play during the first half on April 7, 2018 in Atlanta Ga..
Photo: Miguel Martinez/MundoHispanico
Photo: Miguel Martinez/MundoHispanico

Atlanta United’s success despite injuries is impressive

That Atlanta United has a chance to finish in second place in the MLS Eastern Conference could be considered impressive after an approximate calculation of how many games players have missed this season because of injuries.

Should the Five Stripes defeat New England on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, they will finish the regular season with 58 points and the second seed in the upcoming playoffs, which begin Oct. 19.

It’s impossible to know how many points Atlanta United would have totaled had it not navigated a season that included players missing approximately 118 league games because of various injuries. I stress that’s an approximation because some players missed a game or two during the season as a precaution, such as Julian Gressel not playing at NYCFC, or they are healthy after returning from an injury but don’t play because they aren’t yet in shape, or not needed because of the game’s situation, but were counted. 

Some players returned from injuries and played for Atlanta United 2 before re-joining the senior team. In those situations, I stopped counting MLS games missed from the date the player made an 18 with the USL team. I also didn’t include players that are on the first-team roster, but rarely play.

I didn’t count games missed because of call-ups to national teams. If players were injured during those call-ups, I did count the subsequent MLS games missed because of the injuries. 

Lastly, I would love to say the weekly MLS injury report is accurate for each game, but it’s often not, so I didn’t use it as a resource.

But 118 games is a lot and probably not what Frank de Boer imagined when he accepted the job. But, to his credit, he hasn’t complained publicly about the team’s misfortune.

It started with fullback Franco Escobar suffering a shoulder injury on the first day of training Jan. 15, continued with George Bello suffering an injury sometime around the first game in the Champions League a month later – robbing de Boer of his first-choice fullbacks before the MLS season had even started -- and continued with cranked calves, hamstrung hamstrings, ailing adductors and mysterious knee injuries scattered around Flo Pogba, Brek Shea, Brandon Vazquez, Kevin Kratz, Hector Villalba, Ezequiel Barco and most recently, Josef Martinez, who returned to training on Wednesday after suffering undisclosed injuries to his right knee and ankle three games ago against San Jose.

Perhaps that plot of land Atlanta United bought near its headquarters in Marietta will be to expand its trainer’s room.

I don’t mean to make light, but the team has been bizarrely unlucky.

Quick quiz: How many times this season has Atlanta United had its three Designated Players, Josef Martinez, Pity Martinez and Barco, and former DP Hector Villalba, in the same 18 this season?

Answer: In all games, 17 of a possible 43. In league games, 11 of a possible 33. The last was against Orlando on Aug. 23.

Every MLS team deals with injuries. Sporting KC’s season was ruined because of its myriad injuries.

But that Atlanta United was, until two games ago, competing for first in the East is an impressive bit of managing by de Boer.

The injuries 

Player (Approximation of possible MLS games missed)

George Bello 23

Kevin Kratz 23

Ezequiel Barco 13

Brek Shea 13

Brandon Vazquez 13

Hector Villalba 10

Mikey Ambrose 6

Franco Escobar 6

Flo Pogba 4

Josef Martinez 2

Eric Remedi 2

Julian Gressel 1

Pity Martinez 1

Michael Parkhurst 1

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About the Author

Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson covers the Atlanta United and Major League Soccer.
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