Jeff Larentowicz and Chris McCann, two Atlanta United players who received a great deal of criticism after the team’s 4-0 loss at Houston on Saturday in the season opener, shrugged off the barbs on Tuesday.
Larentowicz, normally a defensive midfielder, started at centerback in place of Michael Parkhurst. McCann, who is a midfielder but received a lot of minutes as a left fullback last season, started at defensive midfielder in place of Larentowicz. The lineup changes came after Ezequiel Barco suffered a quad injury days before the game and will miss 4-6 weeks.
After the game, the center of Atlanta United’s defense was labeled as a “drive right through” zone by analysts on mlssoccer.com, even though two of the goals came on corner kicks and another on a counter-attack sprung from a pass that split all three lines of defense.
The criticisms of Larentowicz were more aimed at Gerardo Martino’s decision to play him as a centerback instead of in the midfield. Larentowicz, did play the position at least three games last season, throughout training and in three preseason games this year.
“Playing Jeff Larentowicz as a centerback when you didn’t have another d-mid out there didn’t make sense,” Matthew Doyle said in a post-game video.
Larentowicz, 34, made 33 appearances and 30 starts last season. He is among the top 10 in MLS history in starts (339) and appearances (358).
“I’ve got one coach, you know?” Larentowicz said. “I do what he asks me to do. I do it to the best of my ability. The guys on mlssoccer.com, I don’t know if any of them have ever coached before, so I think we will leave it at that.”
McCann, 30, received more harsher treatment from the team’s supporters on social media, with quite a few saying he isn’t good enough to be in the starting 11. McCann is a veteran of the Championship in England and helped Burnley earn promotion to the Premier League. He made 23 appearances for Atlanta United last season with nine starts.
He was asked on Tuesday if he wanted to respond to the criticism.
“I’m here to do a job and will play wherever I’m asked to play,” he said. “No matter who plays that position it was going to be a difficult day. We were pulled here, there and everywhere.
“For me, it has no bearing on what I do or how I play. I’m here to do a job and do a job as best I can. People have their opinions. That’s their opinions.”
Those people may not be happy if Leandro Gonzalez Pirez doesn’t return from hip contusion suffered in the loss to play in Sunday’s home opener against D.C. United. The centerback is listed as day-to-day. He didn’t participate in Tuesday’s practice.
If he can’t play, that may mean Larentowicz will stay at centerback, playing alongside Parkhurst, with McCann as one of the two defensive midfielders.