After Miguel Almiron sustained a muscular injury in the first half of Sunday’s 2-0 win at Montreal, there has been some questioning of Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino’s tendency to leave his standout players in the lineup deep into games, even those whose results are done and dusted. Almiron is supposed to see a physician on Monday. The team hasn’t released any information about the potential injury.
Matthew Doyle, whose work is top-notch for MLSSoccer.com, included this tweet in his Monday column:
Doyle followed up with this thought about Martino’s success this season in MLS: “Managing short-term ideals against long-term possibilities has not been one of them (Martino’s strengths), and there’s suddenly a real chance that putting the pedal all the way to the floor now is going to needlessly cost his team at least one essential player when it matters most.”
Doyle has a point: Almiron, Josef Martinez, Hector Villalba and Yamil Asad all played full games in the 7-0 blowout of New England. That’s one example of Martino leaving the players in deep into games. Payson Schwin noted on mlssoccer.com that “starting with a game against D.C. United on June 21, he’s (Almiron) only been substituted twice: once in the 89th minute in Atlanta’s 3-0 defeat of FC Dallas on Sept. 10, and again in the 79th minute in a 4-0 win over the LA Galaxy last Wednesday.”
Almiron has played the third-most league minutes (2,365) of any Atlanta United player this season. Just Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez have played more, but the minutes logged at centerback are different than what Almiron is asked to do as an attacking midfielder.
Almiron, like Asad (2,364 minutes) and Villalba (2,329), is tireless, consistently running on offense and defense.
Almiron runs so much because it’s what the position demands, but also because he said he wants to play. He said after the win against New England that he didn’t get to play as much as he would like at his former club, Lanus, in Argentina. Therefore, he wasn’t worried about playing too much and possibly wearing himself out before the playoffs.
“I just have to take care of myself personally and try to do everything I can to recover along with my teammates,” he said.
Asked if the wear and tear of playing in so many games may have contributed to Almiron’s injury, Martino on Sunday said: “It’s tough to say, but maybe. (Almiron’s) coming off playing a lot of games with us and also playing two games with Paraguay. So, he’s played a lot of games. But it’s also true that as a team we’ve been accustomed to playing one game and then a game midweek, but we’ve had a tough stretch of games, so it’s possible that could be another explanation.”
While it’s impossible to predict injuries, even with all the technology teams used to monitor players during training and games, Martino has another defense for continuing to start and use his young players, even if it doesn’t explain keeping them in games for so long. It’s a reason Martino has used several times when I’ve asked him about potential lineup combinations: securing a playoff spot is the team’s first priority. He said as much again on Sunday, indirectly pointing to the 1 percent possibility that the team won’t make the playoffs.
Atlanta United is in third place in the East with 49 points and five regular-season games remaining. With a win against Philadelphia on Wednesday, Atlanta United will become the first expansion team since Seattle in 2009 to make the postseason.
“I think we are almost sure of a playoff spot especially because we beat a direct opponent that is behind us,” he said. “I think we are 10 points ahead of them in the standings. So, mathematically speaking,we may not be guaranteed a spot, but we are close.”
Martino was trying to reach that benchmark, and when that happens I think he will then rotate out the squad.
For example, if the Five Stripes defeat the Union on Wednesday, I think you may see faces you haven’t seen in a while for Saturday’s game on the turf at New England.
The team has a chance to catch NYCFC and earn the second seed and subsequent bye for the first round playoffs. However, with the team’s 4-0-1 record and 19 goals scored at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, I wonder if getting that second seed is really a worry. While it would be nice to get a few extra days off, it would be difficult to predict the team losing at home in a playoff game, no matter which round.