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How should Ronald Matarrita be utilized against Atlanta?

The Costa Rican fullback looked solid in both games against the Union. But should Domé stick with him in the Eastern Conference Semifinals?

MLS: Chicago Fire at New York City FC Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

There are few complaints from me in regards to New York City FC’s two 3-1 wins over the Philadelphia Union this past week. The Bronx Blues performed exceptionally well in both contests and left each result in very little doubt, whether it be the season finale on Sunday or the knockout round matchup this past Wednesday.

Though not the best performance on the pitch — a distinction that I believe is owed to the powerhouse midfield composed of Maxi Moralez, Alexander Ring, and the returning Yangel Herrera — fullback Ronald Matarrita put in a very solid shift on the attacking end of the left flank in both games. Though he didn’t collect any of sexy stats that are commonly associated with attacking players such as goals or assists, Mata was constantly a force up and down the left wing, often linking well with left back Ben Sweat, and contributed to both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball with his distribution and ability to track back for defensive cover.

Following their first win over Philly on Sunday, I initially pondered whether or not manager Domé Torrent would leave Matarrita in the lineup on the left wing in an attempt to play the hot hand, or slide Jesus Medina back over towards the left flank and replace the vacant right wing spot with clinical goalscorer Ismael Tajouri-Shradi for the knockout round matchup. While Izzy was ultimately inserted into the lineup, Matarrita remained in the XI as Young DP Jesus Medina was instead left on the bench. That option was something I had not considered prior to kick-off on Wednesday. After all, Medina has played relatively well for the Blues in 2018 when healthy.

Despite my initial confusion, the strategy worked wonders as — just like Sunday — NYCFC stormed past the Union 3-1 in a game that was never really all that close.

But this weekend, NYCFC’s most challenging test arrives in the form of Atlanta United.

To put it as bluntly as possible, Atlanta United is not Philadelphia, the latter of whom were merely the 6th and lowest possible playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. For most of this past season, the Five Stripes were very much the favorite to win the Supporter’s Shield. And though they eventually lost out on the Shield due to the New York Red Bull’s ridiculous surge in the latter stage of the season, Atlanta is still among the league’s best teams especially when it comes to the attacking side of the ball.

Because of that, it is important to field your absolute best team, especially in a two-legged series that gives teams a second bite of the apple.

So here’s the question: is Ronald Matarrita the best possible option we have at left wing right now? Statistics would say otherwise.

Obviously, Mata playing left wing has been somewhat of a rarity as it is not his first position; the young Costa Rican is primarily a left back known for his ability to overlap and create chances in the attacking third. Prior to the late stages of the season, the left wing position was perennially held by the aforementioned Jesus Medina, NYCFC’s newest Designated Player signing. All things considered, Medina had a solid first season with club, racking up 6 goals and 7 assists in 28 total appearances. Medina plays a pivotal role in the attack, often being tasked with playmaking in the final third for primary goalscorers David Villa and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi.

But statistics aren’t all you should consider when making such a decision.

For both games against the Union, Matarrita’s offensive workload seemed to be somewhat diminished as he was seemingly tasked with switching on and off with left back Ben Sweat depending on how far each one was the pitch at any given time. The two players seemed almost interchangeable as opposed to each filling a truly different role. This gave NYCFC some really good defensive coverage down the left side and also helped spark some impressive counter-attacks.

When it comes to deciding who should start, it should be predicated upon what style would give you the best chance at defeating an offensively potent Atlanta. Do you go with pure offensive ability and field Medina? Or, does Torrent go with the hot hand and stick with that dynamic combination of Sweat and Matarrita?

To be completely honest, I have absolutely no idea which option is better. Though I believe he has tons of upside, I’m not actually sold (yet) on Medina being an investment worth DP money. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of a player whose offensive capabilities are second to his defensive prowess starting in a very offensive position against a team that is known for its affinity for scoring goals, and lots of them.

In my mind, one could ago about solving this dilemma in three different ways:

1.) You put Matarrita on the bench and replace him with Medina

2.) Torrent tries to maintain some continuity based on momentum, and subsequently leaves Matarrita at the left wing

3.) Sweat — whose form has been shaky as of late — is bumped to the bench, Matarrita moves down the left side into the fullback position, and Medina claims the vacant left wing position.

Personally, I am a fan of Option Three. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ben Sweat and think he is immensely talented and one of the better players on the team — there is no denying that. However, I feel Option Three gives us the best of both worlds: Matarrita is able to contribute in his primary position, whereas Medina is allowed to do what he does best and distribute the ball to a healthy Villa and Izzy.

On paper, that sounds great. But as history has shown us, games — especially important ones — aren’t won on the paper. I’d really, really hate to be Domé this weekend.