Atlanta United's Jeff Larentowicz the 'go-to guy' for inexperienced MLS Cup finalists
ATLANTA -- Jeff Larentowicz has a self-described role on his Atlanta United team, as the team's oldest and most-experienced player, he calls himself the "go-to guy."
The 35-year-old Major League Soccer lifer is an invaluable resource on a team heavily stocked with South American imports who are still adjusting to the league.
"They look to me as the experienced guy," Larentowicz told ESPN FC on Wednesday. "If they have questions about anything, I tend to be the go-to guy."
One expects that he'll be receiving even more inquiries than usual this week, ahead of Saturday night's MLS Cup final between Atlanta and Portland at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Because not only has Larentowicz spent his entire career in MLS, he's also played in four previous championship games -- a rarity on any team, let alone one still only in its second year of existence.
Despite its relative youth, as a franchise and otherwise, Atlanta enters the championship game as heavy favorites. Led by league Most Valuable Player Josef Martinez as well as another finalist for the award, Miguel Almiron, playing in front of a home crowd expected to exceed 72,000, this is United's title to lose.
Larentowicz, though, knows how little previous form can mean once the game kicks off: His New England Revolution teams played in well most of their three-straight finals between 2005-2007 but lost all three, while his underdog 2010 Colorado Rapids had to grind their way to an unlikely championship.
"Any final is a one-off," Larentowicz said. "It's on that given day. We've lost some heartbreakers in the past, and you have to focus on every moment, because it can shift quickly.
"Playing at home, in front of your family and friends, it's easy to feel like everybody is on your side, and to get complacent and relax. But every single one of these that I've played in has been tight."
Given how much more attention has been lavished on teammates like Martinez, Almiron, Hector Villalba and Darlington Nagbe, it's notable that no one on the team started more regular-season games than Larentowicz.
"I see myself as a guy out there who's allowing the other guys to do as much as they can to shine," Larentowicz said. "We have so much talent, and so many guys happy to be on the ball to create, if I can do my part, then I'm in a good place."