We know Atlanta United is one of the — if not the best — teams to watch in Major League Soccer. We know that Atlanta has accumulated the most points over the last two regular seasons. We know that the Five Stripes have ignited a fan base in the South to an extent we didn’t know possible.
And we know Tata Martino’s paradigm-changing macro contributions to MLS:
- His name recognition opened up a new tier of rising stars. Miguel Almiron might not have come to MLS for anyone else.
- He set an example and opened the door for other big-name managers, like Matias Almeyda and Dome Torrent (and hopefully (probably?) Guillermo Barros Schelotto).
- He brought a new level of validity and awareness to the league, particularly in South America.
- He established a new bar for outgoing transfer fees, using his reputation to provide backing that other managers could not.
It’s tough to come up with anything about Tata Martino, named 2018 Coach of the Year on Tuesday, that hasn’t already been said. I just want to point out one smaller part of his efforts that have been huge for his success in Atlanta.
Martino’s man management has been superb. He was blessed with resources and talent, but he got the most out of it.
1) He’s controlled a star-studded roster and kept the group united toward a common goal.
We generally assume that more stars leads to more success. But there’s also another possibility when a team loads up on All Stars: more problems. We’ve all seen a favorite implode halfway through the year.
Star players expect to be treated like stars, with relative playing time, touches, and notoriety. Few have become stars through being timid. All season, Tata has had to deal with at least one more big-name player than starting spot. Yet it never became news. Martino used a combination of different formations and easing players back from injury to ensure nobody felt left out.
The only problem within the locker came from an issue with Ezequiel Barco. Remember that? Barely, right? It could have had lingering negativity, but we never heard about it once Martino levied Barco’s suspension. What could have become a story and long-term problem became a blip on the radar.
We tend to be quick to forget about potential problems once they go right, but we shouldn’t mistake a positive outcome for an easy situation. Martino hit all of the right buttons to keep everyone on track.
2) He has gotten the most out of his players. Almost every player on the roster has played up to his potential. For most, Martino helped them take their game – and value – to the next level.
Almiron. Josef Martinez. Julian Gressel. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. Eric Remedi. Greg Garza. All players who have improved their ability and career trajectory under Martino.
Tito Villalba. Franco Escobar. Brad Guzan. Darlington Nagbe. Players who have provided at least what Atlanta expected of them.
Jeff Larentowicz. Michael Parkhurst. Two players, cast off by their former clubs, who have played at a high level for the last two years.
Barco might rate as the only underachieving regular, and 12-for-13 is pretty good. Don’t forget Barco is still just 19. How many other teams have gotten the most out of 12 of their top 13 players?
Fans often take it for granted that star players play like stars. But the dark closets of MLS past know otherwise — Gio dos Santos, Luis Angel Landin, Eric Hassli, Shkelzen Gashi. Moving to a new country and a new league is tough. Atlanta wouldn’t be the powerhouse they are if Almiron, Josef, Parkhurst, LGP — pick any name you want — hadn’t living up to the billing. Tata Martino has been nearly flawless at bringing out the best in his players.
The Argentine manager has had plenty of talent at his disposal during his time in Atlanta, but that doesn’t make the job easy. It simply raises the bar and creates a new set of challenges, all of which Martino has met with apparent ease. Martino entered MLS with high expectations. He has exceeded expectations. A big part of it was his near flawless man-management.