Miguel Almiron - Josef Martinez - Hugging
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Atlanta United see "phenomenal" growth in Almiron despite modest goal tally

MARIETTA, Ga. – As Josef Martinez makes history this season, the focus has shifted away a bit from Atlanta United’s other superstar, Miguel Almiron.

He may not have received as much attention, but manager Tata Martino thinks his No. 10 has stepped up his game since last year.

“Miguel does so many things well that it’s really hard to say, but he’s improved on every aspect of his game,” Martino said through a translator before Atlanta’s training session on Friday.

That’s high praise when you consider that in 2017 Almiron was named the MLS Newcomer of the Year and the top-rated player on the MLS 24 Under 24 list.

“What he brings in terms of his ability to get out of tight situations, run at a back line, and force defenders to commit to him, it opens space for Josef,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “That’s a huge part of us attacking and a huge part of what Josef’s been able to do.

“Josef gets all the credit and the plaudits and all the accolades, but Miguel is phenomenal for us.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Martino points out Almiron is “getting into the box more, getting into goalscoring situations.”

The proof of his increased aggression in front of goal is in the numbers. Last year, he took 84 total shots, with 35 of those taken on goal. And this season, his 113 shots are second only to the 123 taken by Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco.

Almiron’s relatively modest goal tally (9) suggests he’s struggled a bit with finishing, something Martino readily admits.

“Maybe he hasn’t had the effectiveness that he would want in some of those chances, but I think he’s getting into great positions,” said the Five Stripes’ coach.

At the same time, Almiron has kept up the hard work of tracking back and implementing the team’s high press.

“He’s is always doing well at this, but he’s great at recovering the ball, tracking back defensively,” Martino said. “And I think recently he’s learning to have that understanding of when to do both, when to get forward and when to track back, which is important.”

Defender Chris McCann echoed his coach’s sentiment.

“When you play with Miguel a lot of time you get to see the real Miguel, which is, he runs here, there, and everywhere,” he said. “He chases back after every single ball, he fights for every single ball. It’s good to see that because I don’t think a lot of attacking players like Miguel have the capacity and the desire to want to run back when they lose the ball.”

The Fives Stripes may be working with borrowed time when it comes to retaining a talent like Almiron. He’s made it clear his desire is to eventually make a move to Europe, and there’s been rumored interest from teams in England, Spain and Italy.

Martino said he’s OK with helping Almiron make the move in the future.

“It’d be unfair to think anything else,” he said. “I think that’s the logical progression for him; at the very least, a player of his age and his great potential, that he wants that challenge to play against the best players in Europe.”