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Ship's Log, Nov. 27: Josh Atencio and non-linear development

Josh Atencio season ended early and signals that next year could be even better.

Last Updated
3 min read
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

After missing playing time with the U.S. pre-Olympic squad due to illness, Josh Atencio put together a strong match of 71 minutes in Sunday's 1-0 loss to LAFC in the Western Conference semis. He won the third most duels on the squad going 8-for-11, was tied for first in tackles with four, nearly scored a goal and even slotted a key pass.

He was rangy, has been all year really. Bursting forward to accept long balls, and at times was the only moving part when the Seattle Sounders were forced to probe from the Horseshoe of Death.

During the playoffs he had the 10th most minutes on the squad, was sixth on the Sounders for xG+xA during the second season and tied for 11th in the league for shots taken.

At the start of the season few would consider Atencio a key player. He was in a mix with Obed Vargas and Danny Leyva, but even after starting the Club World Cup had an uncertain role after struggling to get on the field in 2022. Josh broke out in 2021, actually playing more minutes that season than this. Danny's breakout was in 2019. Obed broke out in 2022.

There's no doubt that Josh had a second breakout. Where in 2021 he was a stout defender who could even fill in at centerback, in 2023 he became a strong 8 that contributes in the attack making bold runs forward. There were even times he played out on the wing.

Missing out on the pre-Olympic matches due to that illness may diminish his stock with the U23s, but it shouldn't. His body of work this season was impressive – not just for a 21-year-old, but for a player of any age.

And if Paris doesn't get to watch Josh Atencio in 2024, that's fine. We will definitely see more of a young player who played strong enough to enable the shift in formation that helped lift Seattle back to the playoffs and at one point a ten-match undefeated run.

- Dave

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