With Miguel Almiron a completed physical away from leaving Atlanta United in MLS for Newcastle in the Premier League, how will the defending champs overcome his loss?
The Five Stripes may have two possible replacements already on its roster in Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez.
Neither player is a like-for-like replacement for Almiron, whose speed, endurance, intelligence and technical ability made him one of the best player in MLS the past two seasons. Almiron was as fast with the ball as without, and opponents always keyed to try to stop him.
However, manager Frank de Boer has options now for Atlanta United’s attack, which scored 70 goals last season, as it tries to defend the MLS Cup.
The first option would be to move Barco from the left wing into the middle. Barco, who is right-footed, struggled on the left last season. A fantastic dribbler and passer, he was hesitant to take on defenders on the dribble and to shoot. The 19-year-old finished with four goals and three assists. He lost his starting spot when the team switched from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-5-2 formation for the playoffs, but was impactful off the bench.
Moved to center of the formation, Barco could serve more as a facilitator and use late runs into the box to take shots, which is what Almiron was adept at doing in scoring 21 goals and notching 28 assists the past two seasons.
Barco still needs to work on his defense, particularly his tackling and situational awareness. If de Boer runs a press similar to what previous manager Gerardo Martino used, Barco will be extremely important to its effectiveness.
Moving Barco inside would allow Pity Martinez, whose signing was announced last week, to stay on the left, in space, where he could attack defenders.
De Boer could opt to move Josef Martinez inside and keep Barco on the wing. After another season with Atlanta United and in MLS, Barco could be more confident than he was last season when everything was new after his $15 million move from Independiente in Argentina.
Or, de Boer could do something completely different. He could push Darlington Nagbe higher up the formation to play the role Almiron held last season, put Martinez on the left and continue to bring Barco off the bench.
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