There is drama, perhaps obscured in the background now, that nonetheless surrounds the Atlanta United’s match against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.
Call in Kick-Gate Part II.
Beyond a battle of two of the top teams in the MLS Eastern Conference, there is the matter of the pointed accusations made against Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino by New York manager Jesse Marsch last season. It will be the first meeting since Marsch accused Gerardo Martino of telling his players to kick the Red Bulls during the 0-0 draw on Oct. 15.
After the game, Marsch said, “Their bench is yelling to kick our guys from the bench, OK. So Martino is yelling in Spanish to kick our players.”
Martino denied the accusation after the game, as did Atlanta United players Anton Walkes and Julian Gressel. Some of Atlanta United’s players hadn’t heard about Marsch’s accusations until Wednesday’s post-practice interview session in advance of the rematch.
In fact, some seemed stunned.
“He never game that indication,” centerback Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said of Martino. “He never did. I’m 100 percent sure. He’s the opposite. He wants to play all the time with the ball. He wants to attack. He wants to pressure. He never gave that indication. I’m 100 percent sure.”
Midfielder Miguel Almiron said, “No. No. No. Tata would never give us that order.”
Still, the controversy will be present.
Marsch’s accusation wasn’t part of one throw-away sentence. It was in the middle of a longer diatribe about the style of play he said Atlanta United adopted during the game. The Five Stripes played the game without Almiron and Chris McCann and were on the tail end of a stretch of playing nine games in less than five weeks.
“It was a little bit shaky in the start but once we cranked things up, we took over the game,” Marsch said. “And the shame is that, you know they just decided they wanted to kick us almost every time, referee doesn’t want to hand out yellows, so they are allowed to kick him more.”
He continued: “So you know, I understand that it’s a good team and they are the darlings of the league right now, but I don’t think that you should be able to come into a place and behave in that manner and not to have some kind of recourse.”
No Atlanta United players were punished by the MLS Disciplinary Committee later that week.
Atlanta United midfielder Jeff Larentowicz didn’t seem surprised by Marsch’s tactic. At the time, there was a chance that the teams could meet in the first round of the playoffs less than two weeks later.
“Come on,” he said. “I played against Jesse. I know how he his. He’s a coach. He’s passionate. It bleeds into his players. That’s kind of the way it is. It’s expected. Always expect it out of him and expect it out of his team. If anything, it’s something to be prepared for.”
So, there may be extra spice when the teams meet at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday.
Atlanta United (8-2-1) leads MLS in points (25) and goals scored (25) and returns many of the players that were involved in that game in Harrison, N.J. The Red Bulls (6-3-0) are tied with Atlanta United on goal difference (plus-12) and have won three consecutive games, as well as four of five.
Gonzalez Pirez said he thinks the accusations may be insulting to Martino, who isn’t scheduled to meet with the media until Friday.
“I don’t know that coach,” Gonzalez Pirez said of Marsch. “Different coaches have different things. For Tata, 100 percent sure he never gave that indication.”