- By Doug Roberson The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Franco Escobar started his first interview as an Atlanta United player saying “mal” when asked if he speaks English. That means bad.
However, the Argentinian understood enough of his non-native language to know what was being said when asked if he prefers to play center back or right back.
“Right,” he said.
That will be good news to Atlanta United supporters who were fretting on social media. They thought there was a lack of a traditional right back after Atlanta United declined the option on Tyrone Mears in the offseason and Anton Walkes returned to Tottenham Hotspur after his loan spell ended.
“In Argentina, I played as a centerback like (Michael) Parkhurst, but I also played like a right back,” he said. “But I like to attack.”
He said he wouldn’t compare himself to Gabriel Heinze, but he tries to model his game after the Argentinian legend who was once his teammate at Newell’s Old Boys.
“(Right back) is a position that we wanted to reinforce,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino. “He’s a very good defender.”
To see Escobar motoring down the wing may be intimidating because, though he is listed as 5-foot-9, he looks bigger. He has a strong upper body and takes long strides when he runs. His calves, like his arms, are covered in tattoos. One calf features a tattoo of a tiger. The other features a lion. Within one includes the date he debuted for Newell’s, June 6, and his jersey number, 36.
Newell’s is the club in Argentina that Martino played for and managed. Escobar’s eyes widen when saying Martino is one of the three biggest idols in that club’s history and that his nickname, “Tata,” is almost a holy word.
So, it’s no wonder that Escobar said playing for Martino was one of the most important reasons he left Argentina to join Atlanta United when he signed in December. The second reason was the project that is the club that made the playoffs last season in its inaugural year.
Escobar said he watched many Atlanta United games on TV in Argentina.
“It’s a team I like to watch,” he said. “It’s a style I like to play.”
Attacking fullbacks are important in Martino’s system. Greg Garza, who had 26 appearances, including 25 starts, last season as a left fullback, created 32 goal-scoring chances. That was tied for 41st among all players and thought to be in the top five among fullbacks. (MLS keeps stats on players overall but not by position.) Atlanta United’s right fullbacks weren’t as productive, combining to create 22 chances in 34 games.
Escobar anticipates getting many opportunities because he said his view of MLS is that it’s an attacking league that features a lot of one-on-one defending.
“The games I’ve seen, the field is fast and the guys play a lot of one touch,” he said. “In MLS, it’s very up-and-down. In Argentina, some games are like that, but some teams won’t let you play like that.”