MARIETTA, Ga.—Atlanta United’s six-match unbeaten streak will be on the line this Saturday, as the Five Stripes play host to the Montreal Impact, a team coming off a disheartening 5-3 loss at home to LAFC, despite a hat trick from the Canadian side’s talisman Ignacio Piatti.
“Nacho,” as Piatti has come to be known, may be one of MLS’s most under-appreciated star players -- especially in an era where more and more foreign talent from South America, and Piatti’s native Argentina, enters the league. The manager Piatti will face off against Saturday, compatriot Tata Martino, said the league has players like Piatti to thank for helping expand the MLS’s appeal in Argentina.
“I think Piatti as well as [Diego] Valeri were the two big pioneers,” Martino said through a translator of MLS’s reach into Argentina. “They were kind of the first big guys to come here and I think when players do that and then they’re successful, it kind of opens everyone’s eyes in realizing it’s a good place to find players and a good place to play.”
Piatti hasn’t just been an effective player in North America. He left his native Argentina in 2014 as a champion, winning both an Argentina Primera title and a Copa Libertadores with San Lorenzo as a teammate of current Atlanta United winger Tito Villalba. And Piatti's talent and skill on the ball still puts fear into MLS defenses throughout the league.
“The main problem that every team who plays Montreal has is to figure out how to stop Piatti,” Martino said. “It’s important to avoid 1-on-1 situations with him. We try to keep players like him, or anyone of that talent, as far away from goal as we can and double team them so we can avoid any 1-on-1s.”
If anything, Piatti has only added to his overall attacking arsenal since joining MLS -- more than doubling his goals-per-game rate in Montreal than from the rest of his professional career. Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said the team has talked about Piatti specifically and that the defensive players will need to track him all game to ensure he isn’t allowed time and space to hurt Atlanta.
“Montreal has many good attackers but the one everyone talks about is Piatti," Guzan said. "He gives a level of confidence to all the players on that team. It’s important that we keep an eye on him and know where he is at all time throughout the game. He can change the game with one pass, one strike. He’s got that ability.”