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Atlanta United notes: Martino likens Michael Parkhurst to NBA’s Manu Ginobili

Apr 15, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United head coach Gerardo Martino, center, talks with defender Michael Parkhurst as they walk onto the field before their game against New York City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Gerardo “Tata” Martino is a San Antonio Spurs fan, apparently.

The Atlanta United F.C. manager had some fun with the media Thursday when asked about the fitness of 34-year-old Michael Parkhurst.

The team’s captain has played in all seven games this season, logging 591 minutes, and even has an assist to his name. As the team’s centerback in the 3-5-2, he’s brought stability to a defensive unit that looked awful without him in the opening half of the first game of the season at Houston.

“We gave him the same medicine as (Manu) Ginobili,” Martino said through a translator with a laugh.

An Argentine like Martino, Ginobili, 40, just completed his 16th NBA season, averaging 8.9 points, 2.5 assists and 2.2 rebounds per-game. His team, the San Antonio Spurs, made the NBA’s postseason for the 21st straight year this season.

Like Ginobili, Parkhurst is older and perhaps past his prime, but he has been the glue guy for his team, solidifying the back line.

SAN ANTONIO,TX – APRIL 22 : Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts after hitting a three-point shot late in fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors in Game Four of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 22 , 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

He played a solid game last weekend in Los Angeles, notching two interceptions, six clearances and connecting on 29 of his 39 passes.

Atlanta United’s defense has been exceptional since it’s blunder in Houston. Since then, the Five Stripes notched three clean sheets. In the last three games, they have allowed just two scores.

But Martino credits the team’s energy, on both ends of the pitch, for going six games without losing.

“Maybe the strength of the team has appeared to be the back line of the three or five, but I like to highlight the work that the whole team is doing as a strength,” he said. “I think you’ve seen in the last two games, against New York City and L.A., that our intensity has been really high in both games.”

Chris McCann, who has started at right centerback since Franco Escobar went down with an injury, cited the defensive chemistry as to why the unit has been so strong.

“I think it’s just we know each other now,” McCann said. “Each other’s style, strengths and weaknesses, and we work on it day in and day out.”

A 30-year-old Irishman, McCann has played on defense and in the midfield for the Five Stripes this season. He scored a goal against NYCFC, but his defense was important in stopping the LA Galaxy last weekend, as he logged two interceptions and four clearances.

He also put a little move on Zlatan Ibrahimović in the midfield that turned the Swedish star into an internet meme for a moment.

“Yes, I’ve seen that. People have been talking about it. It’s crazy. It’s just a simple step. People get excited over the smallest things,” McCann said with a grin. “But, you know, it was good to play against a good side like that away from home and playing against one of the so-called better players in the world. To keep a clean sheet, that’s very pleasing.”

Injury report

Left back José Hernández trained on the side with the team this week. Martino said he is “getting closer” to being fit since suffering a quad injury earlier this year, but Hernández is listed as being out for Saturday’s game.

Martino also said that reserve keeper Mitch Hildebrandt, still nursing a left knee injury, is “two to three weeks” away from resuming training.

Academy star debuts

Jackson Conway, a 16-year-old Atlanta United academy product, made his professional debut on Tuesday when he played 61 minutes for ATL UTD 2 in a 3-0 loss to the Charleston Battery. Conway took four shots, but couldn’t put any of them on-target. He completed six of his 11 passes, and impressed ATL UTD 2 defender Jack Metcalf, a product of Liverpool’s youth academy.

“(Conway played) great. These are young kids stepping into a professional game with men,” said Metcalf, 26. “It is very physical and I think they will learn a lot from tonight. I can only speak highly of the young kids stepping in and playing with us. They have always done fantastic.”

The 6-foot-2 forward is a native of Marietta, Georgia and scored 26 goals in 22 appearances for Atlanta’s U-17 team in the 2017-18 season. Casual MLS fans may know Conway from his brief moment of viral fame, where a clip of him scoring from midfield made it on SportsCenter’s Top 10 list.

Vazquez gets opportunity with 2’s

Atlanta United first-teamer Brandon Vazquez relieved Conway in the ATL UTD 2 game on Tuesday, making his first appearance with the Five Stripes’ USL affiliate. He took one shot and completed 66 percent of his passes in 29 minutes of play.

“Brandon gave us everything he had for those thirty minutes, you can see his quality in some moments,” ATL UTD 2 coach Scott Donnelly said. “With how deep (the Battery) were playing – really the whole game – particularly the last thirty minutes it’s a challenging scenario to come into.”

Vazquez, 19, has appeared in just one MLS match so far this season. He scored a goal in Atlanta’s pre-season match against Nashville S.C. Martino was asked about Vazquez’s sparse playing time last week and said the California native is “fighting for his position on the squad.”

Larentowicz longevity

Against the LA Galaxy, Atlanta defensive midfielder Jeff Larentowicz notched his 345th career MLS start, tying him for sixth place all-time in league history by a field player with former Philadelphia, Columbus and D.C. midfielder Brian Carroll. He is now eighth all-time in MLS games played with 364.

Some fans and media have been calling for Atlanta United to sign another defensive midfielder, saying that the 34-year-old Larentowicz won’t hold up. But he played 30 games last season and has started every game so far this season, logging 583 minutes thus far.

“Last year, people were saying the same thing and he was able to play almost all of our games,” Martino said Thursday. “So, we know occasionally we’re going to have to give him some rest, but he’s in really good form right now and he’s a fundamental piece to our team. We hope he stays that way.”

Refs for Saturday

Chico Grajeda will be the head official for Atlanta United’s match on Saturday vs. the Montreal Impact, accompanied by Nick Uranga (AR), Jason White (AR), fourth official Christopher Penso and Jorge Gonzalez on VAR.

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