Josef Martinez. Duh. Much has been written about how the striker’s absence affected Atlanta United last season. It’s the “butterfly flaps its wings” theory. If Martinez hadn’t suffered a torn ACL in the first MLS game at Nashville, and had remained healthy, would the team have made the playoffs? Would Frank de Boer still be in charge? Would Pity Martinez still be on the team (with a presumption that his agent eventually started shopping his client to get out of a bad season with the club)? Who knows? But as awful as it was for Martinez, it may have opened the windows for the team to move on from de Boer and hire Gabriel Heinze, whom most would consider an upgrade. It allowed the team to move on from Pity Martinez and sign Marcelino Moreno, which again is another upgrade. Now, with Josef Martinez healthy, how will he affect the team under the aggressive Heinze, who is much more similar to previous manager Gerardo Martino in his desire to dictate games rather than he is to de Boer, who seemed to want to read and react more. If Martinez plays 2,000 minutes, the Five Stripes will be tough to beat this season.
Ezequiel Barco. Barco wasn’t bought to produce only 10 goals and six assists in the past three seasons. But that’s been the return. This year is huge for him and the club if he hopes to go to Europe and Atlanta United hopes to make a return on its investment. Barco has everything one would think he needs: a manager who wants to play at a quick tempo, a healthy Josef Martinez and Marcelino Moreno as targets for passes or as distractions for defenses, good defensive cover with George Bello behind him if he’s on the wing and a host of players behind him if he’s in the middle, and the experience gained from the past three seasons. Now, he just has to stay healthy play. That’s it. He’s yet to make more than 20 starts in a season. If he can make at least 20 starts, he should have a good year and Atlanta United should receive some decent offers. Things are working out well so far. He has one goal and one assist and has looked dangerous, particularly when in the middle of the formation.