What are Atlanta United’s options at left back ahead of Sunday’s tough game at Sporting KC ?
The team will likely be without Greg Garza, who suffered a separated shoulder in the opening minutes of Wednesday’s loss to Real Madrid in the MLS All-Star game in Chicago at Soldier Field.
Garza has started 20 of Atlanta United’s 21 games. The 25-year-old leads all of the league’s defenders in chances created (26), taking advantage of manager Gerardo Martino’s wish for his fullbacks to become as involved in the offense as possible. He has also scored one goal and added three assists.
The best like-for-like replacement is Mikey Ambrose.
He has three appearances for Atlanta United in league play this season, totaling 32 minutes. Like Garza, he is left-footed. Like Garza, he is very quick. He has looked like an offensive threat in the few minutes he has gotten to play.
Another option is Mark Bloom. Though a right-footed player, Bloom has started at left back in the U.S. Open Cup as well as in the 1-1 tie at Portland.
However, Bloom hasn’t played since that game at Providence Park on May 14. He’s had a back injury and is again listed on this week's injury report.
Martino could also choose to switch Anton Walkes from right back to left, and insert Tyrone Mears at right back. Walkes has started five consecutive league games. Atlanta United 4-0-1 in that stretch, which may be more of a coincidence than cause and effect.
Mears started 15 of the Atlanta United’s first 16 league games.
Martino could get really crazy and do this:
Move Julian Gressel to right back, a position I’m not sure he has played in years, if ever, and move Walkes to left back. The rookie has already played defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder, striker and right midfielder this season.
Why would Martino do this?
Though the first job of a defender is to defend, Atlanta United’s fullbacks are really more tools in the offense.
Though solid on defense, Walkes has had his troubles getting crosses into the penalty box the past few games.
Gressel may not be as good a defensive player, he will be that much better on offense. He has three goals and six assists this season.
Sporting KC’s defense is so good (league-low 17 goals allowed), Atlanta United may need as many of its better offensive players as possible if its goal is to get three points.
Putting Walkes on the left, where he would face Graham Zusi, may also be a better matchup for Atlanta United, too.