Atlanta United did nearly everything right on the way to winning the MLS Cup title. But the team likely erred in not renegotiating coach Tata Martino’s contract long before offers started coming in. Martino’s salary is well below the $1 million-plus paid recently to coaches Bruce Arena, Jason Kreis, Sigi Schmid, and Patrick Vieira, according to league sources.
Now Martino is looking to cash in with Mexico’s national team. He leaves Atlanta a winner, and he will be a difficult act to follow.
Atlanta set standards but likely would not have done so without Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez, and others recruited by Martino.
Also, Atlanta was fortunate that Martino was available after Orlando City passed on him two years ago. Martino became available soon after his Argentina team lost to Chile on penalty kicks in the 2016 Copa Centenario final. Three weeks later, Orlando City named Kreis to replace Adrian Heath, leaving Martino to pitch himself to Atlanta, which was to begin MLS play in March 2017.
Martino accepted a huge salary reduction — he had been paid about $6 million with Barcelona in 2013-14 — and quickly grasped how to optimize the combination of a few South Americans with US-based players. In the playoffs, Martino adjusted tactics to capitalize on former Revolution central defender Michael Parkhurst’s ability to command the back line and read the game in a 3-5-1-1 alignment.
Parkhurst set up the opening goal in Atlanta’s 2-0 win in the final over the Portland Timbers by poking away a pass directly to Martinez, who went in alone on goalkeeper Jeff Attinella.
Parkhurst did not commit a foul in five postseason matches, showing that anticipation, positioning, and quickness can be as effective as hard tackling and physicality in defending.
On Atlanta’s opening goal, Parkhurst capitalized on a Portland error; the Timbers should have played the ball long to the right wing (vacated by Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez) but instead went to Jeremy Ebobisse checking back. Parkhurst anticipated the play and made a game-deciding move.
Then Atlanta took advantage of a free kick, Franco Escobar scoring the second goal. Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese disputed the foul call on Larrys Mabiala, but Mabiala’s recklessness seemed bound to be costly. Portland had been fortunate that referee Alan Kelly denied a penalty kick after Mabiala clashed with Martinez early in the contest.
Ironically, the assistant coach in charge of the Timber back line was Carlos Llamosa, who was among the more sophisticated defenders in MLS history. In fact, Llamosa had been slated to start in central defense for the Revolution in 2005 but was hampered by injury, opening the way for Parkhurst.
The Revolution have reached five MLS Cup finals, each time with a central defender who either had played in the World Cup or was an MLS Defender of the Year: Llamosa (2002), Parkhurst (2005, ’06, ’07), and Jose Goncalves (2014).
Before Martino, several New England coaches recognized Parkhurst’s facility in central defense. Though Parkhurst had been among the smallest players on the team, Bayside United’s Stacey DeCastro placed him on the back line as an 8-year-old. Parkhurst went on to play in a 3-5-2 at Wake Forest under Jay Vidovich (New Canaan, Conn.) and with the Revolution under Steve Nicol.
Atlanta United’s New England connections extend from owner Arthur Blank (Babson College) to starters Julian Gressel (Providence College) and Jeff Larentowicz, who also won an MLS Cup title with Colorado after departing the Revolution in 2010.
Another former Revolution player, Milton Caraglio, contributed to Cruz Azul’s semifinal victory in Liga MX last Saturday night.
Caraglio’s goal gave Cruz Azul a 1-0 win over Monterrey, the Cementeros advancing to the final against Club America. Caraglio, returning from injury, missed a penalty kick before converting the decider for Cruz Azul, which last won the Mexican title in 1998.
Caraglio was 22 years old when he scored three goals in 12 games for the Revolution in 2011. Caraglio then went to Rangers in Chile, then Pescara in Italy’s Serie A.
Caraglio’s Pescara teammates included Juan Fernando Quintero, who converted the tie-breaking goal as River Plate defeated Boca Juniors, 3-1, in the Copa Libertadores final in Madrid Sunday.
Atlanta United and Blank have made up ground quickly after giving other MLS teams a 21-year head start. Among Blank’s first moves was to establish a $60 million training facility in Marietta, Ga., north of Atlanta.
The Revolution are making a similar commitment by building a $35 million facility next to Gillette Stadium.
The Revolution also have hired Sergio Neveleff as scouting director. Neveleff, who has extensive contacts in South America, is the brother of Revolution assistant Marcelo Neveleff.
“We’ve targeted various areas in the world where we want to get players from,” Revolution coach Brad Friedel said. “And we want to make sure we have a stronghold in certain continents. [Sergio Neveleff] is very well-respected in all of South America.
“He has strong ties with most every single club throughout the regions we are looking at, and he can get us to the main decision-makers when it comes to players.
“With any sport, in any league, unfortunately or fortunately, it does take a certain amount of resources to get where you want to go. The training center is a tremendous step in the right direction. It helps on so many levels, including the academy, and training environment. And it will help attract players to come in from around the world.
“All the financial support the Krafts have given to the sport over the years is one of the main reasons MLS exists.”
Friedel believes the Revolution will contend for a playoff spot.
“Without giving away a lot of secrets, I think people will be pretty impressed with what we’re doing in the offseason,” Friedel said. “I’ve said many times in press conferences we should’ve won a lot more games.
“We’re not far away at all. But we also do need to add a couple pieces to the puzzle. With every season, especially one where you don’t make the playoffs, there are going to be changes. Sometimes it’s personnel and sometimes mentality, and some other subtle things. With us it’s a little bit of everything.”