Atlanta United’s Franco Ibarra leaving his mark

It happened again in Atlanta United’s training session Tuesday.

Someone challenged Franco Ibarra for a 50/50 ball.

They didn’t win. And it was mildly violent.

It’s happened 17 times this season, often with the opponent left on the ground and Ibarra looking for a teammate to pass the ball.

“I saw it very, very early with Ibarra or (Santiago Sosa). If you’re gonna go in with him, you go in hard or else you’re going to come out injured,” teammate Miguel Berry said.

A tackle by Ibarra isn’t always fundamentally sound. He’s strong, so sometimes all he needs to do is plant one leg and lunge with the other. The ball will hit his foot. The opposing player’s foot will hit the ball. The opposing player will topple over because there is no give.

The list of victims is long, and Atlanta United already has produced a highlight reel that played on the halo board before the game against Portland, in which Ibarra finished with one tackle and five recoveries. The best example of an Ibarra tackle may have occurred in Week 3 against Charlotte, when Enzo Copetti challenged Ibarra near midfield. Copetti ended up on the ground for a minute or two in a heap as play continued.

Ibarra said he learned the art of tackling while growing up and from his family.

“I just learned to always fight and always give everything in whatever you’re doing,” he said. “So I think, for me, it’s just that kind of passion that is burning inside me, and that’s how I approach it.”

Ibarra said growing up he watched Argentinian greats such as Javier Mascherano, Esteban Cambiasso and Enzo Perez. Ibarra said his job, like theirs, is to recover the ball through a tackle or movement and get it to the talented players around him.

This season, he ranks tied for third in MLS in tackles (17), tied for fifth in tackles in which his team recovers the ball (9), fifth in duels won (37), ninth in duels success rate (57.8%) and first in blocks (13).

Ibarra’s willingness to do the work that isn’t as exciting as say, a 35-yard free kick, inspires his teammates.

“Guys like that put in tackles, it makes me want to run through a wall for him, so they’ve done incredibly well this season,” Berry said. “They have a very difficult job with how many attacking players we have, and I think they’ve done incredibly well.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1

March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1

March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0

March 18 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1

March 25 at Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

April 1 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

April 8 at New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 15 at Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 23 vs. Chicago Fire FC, 4:30 p.m., FS1

April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox

May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.

May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.

May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.

May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.

May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1

June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.

June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox

July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.

July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA