by Jarrett Smith
2020 is in the books for Atlanta United and I’m sad to see it end, even if half of you were begging for it to end. Let’s get this out of the way by saying I’ll never hope a team misses the playoffs even in a bad year. Miss me with any excuse or reason you have for it. It’s like the USMNT missing the World Cup. There wasn’t a positive there and I don’t want to hear it.
There is time for me to be angry later, for now it’s time to hand out some hardware and I can’t remember if we actually did this last year or not?! Whatever. 2020 isn’t real anyway.
Moreno followed a familiar path to Atlanta as he came from Lanus before landing with the Five Stripes. Once he settled in, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t believe that he hadn’t played the game competitively since March. Moreno had to fill the void left by Pity and did so in an impressive way and it’s really easy to get excited about what he can do with a healthy Josef in front of him. Beyond that, he did one of my favorite things a player can do: Make those around him better. Hyndman and Rossetto both looked better with Moreno providing a bit of contagious flair.
Carlos Carmona Underrated Player of the Year
Jeff is going to get his name on this award at some point probably but he just kept performing well in the twilight of his career. It’s really easy to hand this award to a holding midfielder as it’s a thankless job sometimes and this is an award that can lean toward players who fit that bill. Larry isn’t the spring chicken he was but he still sat in front of the back line well, put away a penalty for the first time in years and is still better in the air than he’ll probably ever get credit for.
Gallagher was a draft pick out of Notre Dame, played almost every position for Atlanta United 2 in his rookie year, went to Aberdeen in Scotland and did the same and was finally handed his chance at the end of the MLS is Back Tournament when he provided 45 minutes of hellfire and energy to a team that had posted an alarming flat first half in a must-win game. Gallagher had to work to earn his time but ended the season with a team-high 4 goals. I understand that stat is disappointing but so was the rest of 2020. You want good news out of it? Atlanta found another draft pick — in a league where the draft is a blind game of craps — who went from an afterthought to the guy you looked to when you needed something to happen.
Goal of the Year
For this let’s go take out some aggression on DC United in the most enjoyable game of the season for Atlanta United where the Five Stripes went to a broken DC and beat them over the head with it for 90 minutes. The previously mentioned Jon Gallagher worked a wonderful team goal that led to him finishing past a clearly angered Bill Hamid. Atlanta’s moments of joy weren’t plentiful but that night was a good stretch and that goal was a glimpse of what could be accomplished.
Tito Villalba Memorial ‘What the Smoking Hell’ Goal of the Year
Stephen Glass’ first game as manager for Atlanta United involved a home date with Nashville and Pity Martinez was expected to carry the load for this team after the departure of Frank de Boer. Pity did just that with a two goal performance including a game-clinching rocket that had some very ‘swing hard in case you hit it’ energy that might have time traveled on the way to the net. It’s a damn shame we never got to see the ‘PB&J’ offense work in 2020 or really see Pity hit his stride with the wealth of talent around him, but that night showed you what he could do.
DC is an easy shout here but I’ll go off the board and point the long gun at the win against Dallas in the middle of the season. The team had struggled a fair amount and they seemed to find some gumption in that performance, pressing Dallas left and right and earning a penalty that Jeff Larentowicz put away. Dallas made changes that included putting on their designated players and Atlanta’s back line held tough to escape with 3 points when every other night that year, it would have been easy to lay down.
For this we’re going to go back to Orlando and the loss against Columbus. The fight in the second half was good, but forgive me if I can’t get over how flat that team looked in the first half of the must-win game and a game that ultimately looks like it sealed Frank de Boer’s fate. Issues with management or not, there was no good excuse for coming out that flat in that situation.
Look, Lennon was asked to come fill the shoes of Julian Gressel. No matter how you cut it that’s the player he will always be compared to and Lennon was a rock for Atlanta United. He had nearly limitless energy and while the team did suffer when that energy did fall off, you didn’t lose a ton with crossing (in fact he led the league in crossing and a true starting striker is more than likely going to be racking up the assist goals for Lennon) and if he can replicate those performances in 2021 you’re looking at a guy who could be working his way back into the USMNT picture.
(photo courtesy of Atlanta United)