Losing Miguel Almiron hurts. There is no doubt about that. For at least three weeks, Atlanta United will be without one of the league’s premier playmakers that was in the process of leading the team on an unprecedented late-season surge.
While it may hurt, Almiron’s injury certain isn’t a deathblow, and that’s because Atlanta United is certainly prepared to handle his absence.
The Paraguayan playmaker is set to miss three regular season games after featuring in the first 29 matches of the MLS season. He’ll miss a home match against the Philadelphia Union, a visit to the New England Revolution and a visit from Minnesota United. It’s not exactly a murderer’s row of opponents as all three are essentially out of the playoff picture. With two of those matches at home, Atlanta United should get a plentiful haul of points, even without Almiron in the lineup.
Even a modest haul would be enough for the club to lock up a postseason berth. A win on Wednesday would seal a debut playoff spot, while there are a variety of other scenarios that could see their position secure even with a tie. If the goal is just to get to the postseason, Atlanta United could start you or me at midfield and fare just fine.
But the goal isn’t just to get to the postseason; it’s to lock up, at worst, a home game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the wild card round. At best, a push for a first round bye is still on the table, as the club trails NYCFC by just three points with a game in hand and goal differential very, very skewed in Atlanta’s favor.
Knowing that, they’ll actually have to replace Almiron in the lineup and push for maximum points. Julian Gressel is the natural replacement, and the rookie midfielder has certainly proven a very good playmaker throughout his first season. Tata Martino should have no issues putting Gressel out there in at least a few of the upcoming matches.
He’s not the only option, though. There’s veteran Kevin Kratz, who scored a ridiculous free kick last week. Yamil Asad could tuck into a more central role, but it’s probably not in the best interest to shuffle things around too much. The attacking combination of Asad, Josef Martinez and Tito Villalba has been too good in recent weeks. Don’t mess with success.
Ideally, Atlanta handles business over the next three matches with Almiron sidelined. NYCFC, the prime contender for second place, faces tough road matches against the Montreal Impact, Chicago Fire and the New England Revolution in their next three outings. If Atlanta United can get seven points from their next three, the team should feel good about having a chance at second place when Almiron gets back on the field.
From there, you manage minutes. It’s hard to see the injury as a blessing in disguise, but it might just be for a player that has been an absolute workhorse this season. Atlanta’s attack hasn’t been rotated heavily save for during Martinez’s injury spells. A few off weeks could be helpful, and Almiron is likely to return with one or two matches leading up to the postseason to regain fitness and confidence.
With all of that said, Atlanta has plenty of reason to feel confident. The playmaker may be missing and the team may have work to do, but Atlanta United is still in fine position to do something special before the postseason starts.