Four Horsemen: What makes each Atlanta United attacker important

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Atlanta United enter Week 32 in third place in the Eastern Conference, an Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoff spot and a shot at earning a bye past the Knockout Round. What’s gotten them to these lofty places? A series of outstanding performances from their young South American attackers.

Miguel Almiron, Yamil Asad, Josef Martinez and Hector Villalba have all been key reasons why the team has scored 68 goals this season, the second-most of any team in MLS. Almiron (No. 1), Villalba (No. 8) and Asad (No. 11) all finished in the top 11 of MLSsoccer.com’s 24 Under 24 series this year, while Martinez’ 18 goals are the fourth-most in MLS. 

Each of these players bring their own qualities to the side and work together so fluidly on the field that is hard to separate one from the other. With only Martinez missing significant time it is also hard to isolate instances where one’s absence affected the teams play, making it hard to say which player is most important.

Looking at some stats, it’s clear that Asad and Almiron are the ones who set up many of the goals and string together in possession while the other two are relied on to finish.

Player Non-penalty goals+assists per 90 Open Play Chances Created per 90 Shots per 90 Usage Rate Dribbles Completed per 90 Passing Accuracy Passing Accuracy in Final Third
Almiron .60 1.45 3.2 9.69% 1.56 80.70% 76.62%
Asad .66 1.57 1.67 9.94% .97 76.25% 70.04%
Martinez 1.13 .79 4.36 3.77% .40 82.55% 72.17%
Villalba .80 1.25 2.82 5.50% 1.29 72.08% 62.73%

The fact that Asad’s numbers mirror Almiron’s so closely, outside of shots, may be a surprise to some but it’s clear the 23-year-old is an integral part of Atlanta’s success.

Trying to parse out what they do without one of their pieces is extremely difficult. As mentioned before, only Martinez has missed significant time. The time that he did miss came mostly when Atlanta was on the road against stiffer competition, which affects the numbers when he was absent.

Looking at the numbers below do not help very much in trying to determine which player is most important:

Combination Games started PPG Win % Goals per game
All 4 13 2.2 69.2% 3.0
Almiron/Asad/Villalba 13 1.46 38.5% 1.77
Asad/Villalba/Martinez 1 3.0 100% 3.0
Asad/Villalba 3 .33 0% .67
Almiron/Villalba 2 0.0 0% 1.0
Martinez/Villalba 1 1 0% 0.0

The bottom line is that it’s tough to separate one from the other. Without Almiron you lose playmaking and speed, without Asad you lose calm on the ball and defensive hustle, without Martinez you miss world-class forward play and without Villalba you lose top speed, finishing and work ethic.

The original goal of this piece was to try and determine which of the four is most important. That’s basically impossible given how important each of the four is in their roles.

Three of the four, with the exception of Almiron, will try and show why they are so special when they visit the New York Red Bulls on Sunday (5 pm ET; FS1, FOX Deportes in US | MLS LIVE in Canada).

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