Luis Robles has stated that Miguel Almiron, not Josef Martinez, is his MLS MVP. He has revealed the key for the New York Red Bulls as they prepare to face Atlanta United in the Eastern Conference finals.
The New York Red Bulls are used to a challenge. Although the playoffs have rarely been kind to them, when it comes to regular season match-ups against the best in Major League Soccer, they have tended to come out on top. Just ask local rivals New York City FC.
You can also ask Atlanta United, who have never beaten the Red Bulls in their two-year existence. The Red Bulls have a way of beating the best teams.
And on Sunday, they open their Eastern Conference Championship against the best team in MLS across the past two seasons, the very team that they boast an aggregate score of 7-2 over. Yes, the Red Bulls will face Atlanta. Again. This could be a real rip-roarer.
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Atlanta boast two MVP candidates: Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron. There is no attacking duo in the whole league as potent. Martinez was broke the single-season goalscoring record with 31 net-rippling strikes, while Almiron built a terrific campaign that consisted of 12 goals and 14 assists in just 2760 minutes of action.
Martinez is the favourite for the MVP award. When you break such a significant record, it kind of comes with the territory. But as Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles conceded this week, it is Almiron, not Martinez, that is the critical piece of this brilliant Atlanta attack:
"“I was just reading an interview the other day with Martinez and he was saying that [Almiron] makes him better and I believe it. I think Josef Martinez is an incredible striker and you can’t discredit 31 goals. He broke the MLS record this year and a lot of it has to go to his ability to score goals and get on the end [of service], the way he plays so gutsy and tenacious. He’s just willing to put his body on the line and so many goals he’s been able to score because of that. And yet, the engine that makes this team run is Miguel Almiron.”"
Indeed, Almiron is the player that teams must prevent from dictating games if they are to contain the vibrant Atlanta play. Almiron has played in three of the four matches against Red Bulls, playing the full 90 minutes in all three. He has no goals and no assists.
Almiron has no goals and no assists in 13 matches that he has started this season. In those 13 matches, Atlanta has a record of 3-5-5 and have scored just 13 goals, a rate of precisely a goal a game. Across the whole season, the Five Stripes averaged over two goals per game. The impact of stifling Almiron is clear.
Martinez is the best centre-forward in MLS. He is a terrific goalscorer, a brilliant player, a clear threat that the Red Bulls will have to prepare for. But he is not the fulcrum of this Atlanta team. He is the one individual who must be curtailed.
That honour belongs to Almiron, and Robles understands that innately.