With no Miles Robinson and no Michael Parkhurst in the center of Atlanta United’s defense, it’s probable that Leandro Gonzalez Pirez will take over organizing the backline for tonight’s MLS playoff game against New England at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Gonzalez Pirez, one of the better defenders in MLS the previous two seasons, hasn’t been as consistent this season, but when he’s locked in, he’s been very good as a mix of the intelligence of Parkhurst and the athleticism of Robinson.
But, there’s this: Gonzalez Pirez received 11 yellow cards in 31 league appearances and picked up another in last week’s win over New England in the first round of the playoffs. If he receives another tonight, and Atlanta United wins, he will have to sit out the conference final. Josef Martinez and Jeff Larentowicz are in the same situation.
Other than one missed header in last week’s win against the Revolution, Gonzalez Pirez has played well in the past two games.
“Often times, when he plays really well, we play really well,” Larentowicz said. “I think that he knows his importance, and with Mike out, with Miles out, you’ve got to think that he’s going to be huge for us.”
Manager Frank de Boer said he appreciates that Gonzalez Pirez consistently communicates with his teammates to make sure they are in the proper positions.
“He has that South American spirit of course,” de Boer said. “He lives for these kinds of games….”
It’s not yet clear which of the Union players that Gonzalez Pirez must focus on first. Kasper Przybylko, Philadelphia’s leading scorer and who scored a goal and set up another in Philadelphia’s 3-1 win over Atlanta United in August, hasn’t been ruled out. Sergio Santos may get the start. He started the win against Red Bulls in the first round. He scored four goals with one assist in 17 appearances during the regular season.
They’re different players, but I think they have the ability to do similar things,” Larentowicz said. “A lot of balls that skip the midfield and go into their striker, and I thought he was a handful on Sunday afternoon. He came in against us and was able to create some openings. Whoever plays … I think that they’re both tough, big bodies to deal with.”
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