It’s like trying to stop LeBron James from getting into the post.
So, why is it so difficult to either stop him from going left, or force him to his right.
“That just shows the quality of those players,” said Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino, who has coached a few good left-footed players, such as Lionel Messi and Angel di Maria. “Even when defenders know exactly where they want to go, they still go that way.”
With his huge, friendly smile and lithe frame, Almiron doesn’t look dangerous.
But the 23-year-old has shown what he can be … and do, particularly in the past two games, when scored five goals, was awarded two MLS player of the week awards and showed his ability to skip away from most tackles as he moves left for a pass or shot. He gets the chance to show more of that when Atlanta United plays at Vancouver at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Almiron is not the only primarily one-footed player in soccer. Parkhurst noted that everybody knows Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia is going to go right, and he’s still able to do it. The right foot of Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben may be withered from lack of use. And then there’s Messi, whose left foot may be the best, and one of two players who Almiron tries to pattern his game after. The other player being Manchester City’s David Silva.
So, when everyone knows what Almiron is going to do, such as on every one of his goals in the past two games, how is he able to do it?
There are a few reasons. The first is he is fast.
Greg Garza, one of the team’s more eloquent players, provided the oddest answer, comparing Almiron with a basilisk, a lizard found in Central and South America that is so quick and so light that it can run across water.
“Call him the lizard man,” Garza said.
Garza went on to say that Almiron is as fast with the ball as without, a belief expressed the day before by Jeff Larentowicz.
“When you are that quick I don’t know if it matters,” Larentowicz said. “Preki was famous for his left foot, and somehow he always got his left-footed cross or shot off.”
There are numerous examples this season of Almiron whirling away and leaving defenders staring at the No. 10 on the back of his jersey.
He did it to Toronto’s Michael Bradley, who has 130 appearances for the U.S. men’s national team, in their 2-2 draw. Almiron did it to Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman, who has 58 appearances for the U.S., in Atlanta United’s 3-1 win.
But it’s not just Almiron’s speed that helps him. There are lots of fast players. It’s that Almiron knows how to use his speed to get where he needs to be.
“It’s just … he’s just so crafty,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. “He’s a lot faster than you think. He just needs to get you off balance a little bit and he is by you. And he’s very good at doing that.”
And if he is stopped, which has happened several times this season?
“He’s got no fear,” Parkhurst said. “It doesn’t matter if he gets stopped once. The very next time he’s going to go right at them again. You probably won’t stop him twice.”