MARIETTA, Ga. — The status of one of Atlanta United F.C.’s most important players is uncertain for its biggest game of the season. There’s a chance the Five Stripes could play the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals without midfielder Jeff Larentowicz.
Atlanta United manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino told reporters Friday that Larentowicz will be a game-time decision Sunday, when the team hosts New York City FC at 5:30 p.m. ET for the Major League Soccer Cup playoff game. Atlanta leads NYCFC 1-0 heading into the contest, which will air on ESPN.
“Jeff has a little problem, so we’re going to see if he’s OK to play,” Martino said through a translator. “He ended the (first leg of the semifinal) with a little problem, so we’re going to wait and see if he’s available.”
Martino said Larentowicz’s issue was “muscular” and declined to be more specific. Martino also ruled out the availability of Mikey Ambrose, Sal Zizzo, Chris McCann and Brandon Vazquez for Sunday’s match.
Larentowicz, 35, has been a versatile and important defender for Atlanta United this season. He played in all 34 regular season matches, starting 33 of those. He’s played as a defensive midfielder, as a centerback, as a right back and as a central midfielder.
“He’s a player who has a lot of experience and knows the league very well,” Atlanta defender Franco Escobar told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “He’s always in the team because wherever you put him, you know he’s going to perform well in that spot.”
Laretowicz is fourth all-time in MLS appearances by non-goalkeepers and has been part of teams that reached four MLS Cup finals. Alongside Michael Parkhurst, he is Atlanta United’s most veteran player.
Like he has all season, Larentowicz was key to Atlanta’s defensive game plan in its 1-0 win at NYCFC in the first leg of the conference semifinals. He helped bottle up David Villa and Maximiliano Moralez, neither of which registered a shot on target. Larentowicz tallied five clearances, four tackles and one interception in the win.
Larentowicz aggravated Villa enough to provoke the Spanish forward to throw an elbow at him at one point in the match. The first leg of the match-up between Atlanta and NYCFC was a chippy one, as 39 fouls were called and five yellow cards were doled out.
“It’s a physical game,” Parkhurst said Friday. “There’s guys doing stuff off the ball. Everything gets seen, but not everything gets punished. It’s the playoffs. You expect it. It’s going to be physical. We’re going to make sure that we look after our own guys. Whatever that takes, we’re going to do it together.”
- Andrew Carleton is a finalist for the USL’s 2018 Young Player of the Year. The 18-year-old homegrown tallied two goals, two assists and 29 chances created in 14 appearances with ATL UTD 2 this past season. Carleton has also appeared in seven MLS matches this season, starting twice.
- Brad Guzan and Darlington Nagbe were both named to the U.S. National Team roster for upcoming friendlies in Europe against England and Italy. The games are sandwiched between rounds in the MLS Cup Playoffs. The friendlies are Nov. 15 and 20, and leg one of the MLS Conference Finals will be played Nov. 25. Here’s what Guzan had to say Friday about balancing club and national team duties: “Maybe from the outside it looks difficult, but from the inside, you got to do it. It is what it is. It’s all part of representing your country. It’s all part of playing at a high level. So, assuming things go well for us Sunday, to then leave and then come back and then only have a few days of preparation for the next round, that is probably the hardest part. But in terms of the travel and going away and whatnot, it is what it is and you just kind of deal with it.”