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Atlanta United's Four South American Horsemen

Wednesday 20th September 2017
Atlanta United have been in the Major League Soccer mix all season.  Its attack has been a major factor in the fledgling club's success.

Former Paraguay, Argentina, and Barcelona boss Gerardo 'Tata' Martino has assembled a competitive squad on both sides of the ball. Nevertheless, there is no doubt his team's biggest strength has been the four South American players up front.

Few expansions teams have been as successful as Atlanta United during their MLS coming out parties. Atlanta currently sit fifth in the Eastern Conference but could move to fourth with a home win tonight against struggling LA Galaxy.
United could push even higher in the run into the playoffs. In the midst of an unusual six-game home stand, the Georgia club has taken seven of nine points from the first three contests.
Wins over visiting LA, Montreal, and Philly, all below them in the table, followed by a return leg against a New England Revolution side that just sacked its long-serving coach and another home treat against fellow debutantes Minnesota United, third from bottom in the west, offer the possibility for all-important home advantage in the wildcard matches between the Conference's third through sixth place finishers. Being able to pack 55,000 Bobby Dodd Stadium with raucous supporters for a one-off match to gain entry to the playoffs proper will provide an intimidating atmosphere only current MLS Cup holders Seattle Sounders can match.

Martino has guns up front to fire through, as well. He's assembled a 4-2-3-1 system in which the four attack-minded players have been nothing short of outstanding. Josef Martinez is the lone striker, Miguel Almiron the enganche, with Yamil Asad and Hector Villalba on the wings. All four players have dazzled in their own right.
Almiron, a 23-year-old Paraguay international has been nothing short of impressive. Firmly establishing himself as the team's most important creative threat, he has registered eight goals and 12 assists in 27 appearances (25 starts). The former Lanus star is among the best creative threats in the entire league. If we are being honest, Atlanta won't be able to keep him if he keeps playing like this. European teams are already knocking at Tata's door.

The two Argentine wingers have impressed in their debuts. Neither has been as good as Almiron but both have been excellent for Atlanta.

Villalba plays on the right, although, left-footed, 'Tito' tends to adopt an inside-forward role. So far, it has paid off. The former San Lorenzo star has 11 goals and eight assists in 27 starts.

On the opposite flank, Asad is right-footed. Yet, the Velez Sarsfield product copes in a different manner than Villalba. He sets himself up to create rather than score. Despite his unselfish character, four strikes have accompanied his 10 helpers in the 25 matches in which he's featured, all starts. That isn't to say he always has to carry his countryman, however.
Combined, the trio have 23 goals and 30 assists. The first is something of a magic number. All three are 23 years old. Few teams in the league have such a prolific attacking line. Yet, we've only discussed the supporting players.

Atlanta's true star has been Josef Martinez. The former Torino forward joined Atlanta on February 2. He quickly made an impact for the franchise, immediately becoming the team's main goal-scoring threat. Martinez hasn't been able to play regularly this season due to several injuries, yet has been extremely productive when available. Sixteen goals in only 14 appearances (11 starts) is a frightening statistic. To take three points from Atlanta, opponents must plan on scoring twice, just to account for Martinez's better than a goal-per-game rate.

Despite his limited playing time, Martinez ranks fifth in the MLS scoring list this season. Only David Villa (19), Diego Valeri (18), Nemanja Nikolic (18) and Ola Kamara (16) rank higher. None have less than 26 appearances, practically twice as many as the Venezuelan.
Along with massive support, Atlanta United could share another commonality with the champion Sounders. No expansion team has made the MLS playoffs since the Emerald City side did it in 2009. That won't be enough for Tata Martino. He'll have his four horsemen set on being the first new Major League Soccer franchise to advance, hopefully riding their abilities all the way to the final.
Juan Pablo Aravena

29-year-old sports analyst and journalist with over three years of experience in the industry. Writes about all kinds of sports from football to golf, but there is no question his biggest passion in life is football. Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Colo Colo fan.


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