Following the end of the 2016 Copa America Centenario, Argentina head coach Tata Martino left the helm of the Albiceleste to start up a new franchise in the MLS, Atlanta United. For a man who has coached the likes of Lionel Messi at Barcelona and the Argentinian National Team, to move to a new club in the United States marked what seemed an unflattering low point in the manager’s career. Being tasked with starting up and organizing the new expansion side was never going to be easy but when put into perspective the responsibility he had at much larger clubs made fans believe he would fade off into obscurity. After a very disappointing spell with the Blaugrana and a less than pleasing stint with Argentina, Tata Martino shined greatly with Atlanta United. As their first coach in the club’s history, he may as well cemented his name as the club’s greatest of all time. In his two seasons at the helm of the Georgia based club, we will look at his short but lasting legacy.
Atlanta United entered Major League Soccer along with fellow 2017 expansion side Minnesota United. Unlike their Northern neighbors, Atlanta United showed great promise right away. Minnesota struggled greatly throughout the season and became one of the league’s weakest teams, while Atlanta proved to be one of the strongest. Lead by the strong performances of Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron, Atlanta United became one of the most feared attacking sides in the league. Boasting the largest fan base in the MLS with over 70,000 fans going to games, Atlanta United outmatched attendance records for even some of the top Premier League teams. The man who held the season’s best goal per minute ratio in 2017, Josef Martinez sent a message out to the league that Atlanta United was an attack savvy team with no fear. The creative and productive force in Miguel Almiron made him an MLS All Star and one of the most promising talents in the league. Captained by CB Michael Parkhurst and goaltended by Premier League veteran Brad Guzan, Tata Martino created a team worthy of claiming the title in their first year of existence. For one of the first times in his coaching career, Martino created a team with chemistry that enjoying playing under his leadership and tactics. As seen in Barcelona, there was a great deal of unrest regarding his management of the team, let alone the struggle of results in his solitary season in charge at the Catalan club. After an unfortunate Eastern Conference semi-final loss to the Columbus Crew in a penalty shoot-out, Atlanta proved to the league that they were not lucky in the journey to the playoffs but they were to come back with a vengence to claim the title in 2018. Under Martino, in their first season ever, Atlanta United managed a 15-9-10 record with 55 points, good enough for 3rd most points ever by a first year expansion club.
This season is not yet over but Atlanta United, under the stewardship of Martino are one win away from clinching the MLS Supporter’s Shield and securing the most points ever in one season. By managing to keep star man Josef Martinez fit, Martino has lead him to be the league’s best single season scorer of all time, with 30 goals to his name so far in just 33 appearances. Partner in crime Miguel Almiron has enjoyed a fantastic season as well with 12 goals and 11 assists to his name. Their productive exploits has earned them European interest with Crystal Palace and Arsenal said to be involved, respectively. Martino did not create one season wonders, he developed a threatening side feared by every team in the league. The creation of a powerhouse club is exactly what was expected of him during his time at the helm of Barcelona and he has now finally achieved that with a club in existence for just 2 years. With 69 points and sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings, Atlanta are in prime position to claim the MLS Cup.
WHAT NOW FOR MARTINO?
While it was made official in the media that he has rejected a contract extension with the club, it is unclear where his next job in management lies. Rumors have circulated that he will take up the vacancy with the Mexican National Team following Juan Carlos Osorio’s decision to leave after the World Cup. Despite his decision to leave the club, fans can only look back with complete admiration for the man who transformed a club into a powerhouse just two years into its existence. Atlanta fans wish you great success in your future Tata, and you will never be forgotten by the club.
Written by: Andrew Diefenderfer