Monday was the first of many deadlines for MLS teams as they had to reveal which players were getting their options picked up and announcing any players that were out of contract.
Atlanta United took a lot of the suspense out of this by revealing their players about a week ago. While there were not many surprises on that list, there was a noticeable omission: Jeff Larentowicz.
Larentowicz came to Atlanta as a free agent at the end of the 2016 season and was expected by many to be a nice rotation piece but he took one of the defensive midfield roles and never let go. He and Carlos Carmona went on to form the most surprising part of Atlanta’s 2017 team.
Larentowicz is – as of this writing – under the ‘Status to be Determined’ category and his future in Atlanta uncertain and arguments to keep or release him have their merits.
Larentowicz is 34 years old and it’s always reasonable to wonder where the cliff is for players as they age. Atlanta may not want to sign him to a deal longer than one year, especially with someone like Chris Goslin waiting in the wings and he may be interested in parlaying his successful deal into one last multi-year contract. Perhaps with one of the teams in his home of Southern California.
On the other hand, Larentowicz was a rock in Atlanta’s midfield and was everything Atlanta could have hoped for when dropping back into defense when the attack would get forward. His work made it possible for the likes of Garza, Walkes and Carlos Carmona to get forward with confidence, knowing there would be someone back to contribute to defense in the event of a counter. And despite his age, there really was not any indication that his age was becoming a factor. His performance was consistently good and he was an iron man during the brutal string of matches late in the season.
Beyond the on-field contributions, Larentowicz can reasonably be seen as a valuable teacher for the likes of Goslin and any other young defensive midfielders or defenders that Atlanta has in the pipeline. Management’s assessment of these young players may ultimately influence what Larentowicz sees when the terms of a new deal are slid across the table. It is safe to wonder if contract discussions include any discussions about coaching once his playing days are done.
The front office has been solid in its first year and there isn’t a reason to think they won’t continue to be. That said, sometimes being good at this job means making the tough choices – even if they are a bit unpopular.