Atlanta United has been a success.
Despite nitpicks around the league it’s hard to argue with the numbers simply because running teams off the field on paper is different than actually doing it.
How are they doing it? The number five seems to be very popular. The five stripes name — as debatable as it may be — fits how Atlanta has built a winner: by excelling in five on-field areas.
Well this one got knocked out of the park. Atlanta started by signing Hector Villalba and starting a speed trend. Adding Miguel Almiron and asking him to pull the strings from the midfield has led to talk of the next MLS superstar. Josef Martinez — added on loan after a move for Oscar Romero was hijacked by China — has made his personal goal to round every ‘keeper in the league.
Martinez’s option to buy wasn’t an issue given Atlanta’s deep pockets. Villalba and Almiron were purchased outright and signified Atlanta’s determination to dive head first into the league’s trend of acquiring young exciting designated players as opposed to veterans.
Money played a big role in these moves, let’s not get that twisted. But if we go down the money route let’s give the front office credit for scouting and spending on players that fit the system instead of just throwing money at a name simply because #Zlatlanta is a catching slogan.
With the limited number of international slots in MLS Atlanta United as always going to have to get creative if they wanted to hand the reigns of this team over to Eales and Martino. The first two international moves (which now don’t actually count against the international slots. Funny how that works…) were Chris McCann and Kenwyne Jones. Both are international veterans that brought experience and success at respected levels of competition.
That’s been a theme. Look at the other signings and be impressed. Carlos Carmona has fit into Martino’s plan nicely and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez looks like an angry rock next to clever league veteran Michael Parkhurst.
There’s also Yamil Asad and we’re running out of nice things to say about him. Asad left his family’s shadow and took the left wing spot with no intention of giving it back. There were some risks with Atlanta’s team building and this was a big one but man has it paid off.
Atlanta has also managed to stuff players like Romario Williams in Charleston while they develop behind a backlog of attacking talent, building the team’s weapons cache for the future.
This might be where Atlanta really pulled away from Minnesota in team building, though they had more time to do so.
Atlanta was aggressive in grabbing veteran and captain Michael Parkhurst along with league veterans Jeff Larentowicz, Mark Bloom, Alex Kann, Tyrone Mears, Zach Loyd and Jacob Peterson.
The thing with all of these signings is that they’re all reasonable for anyone. None of them really broke the bank and in a league where TAM and GAM are being passed out like crazy it’s reasonable to ask while Minnesota or other teams weren’t able to land some of them.
This isn’t exactly a line up of current all-star but they’re the kind of players that make your entire roster better and for a team making noise for international moves, the spine of this team is very familiar with a tough and unique league.
Let’s have some fun here because we’d be burying the lede if we mentioned anything other than the fact that Atlanta is rolling a German tank out in the midfield every week and I’m not sure anyone saw it coming.
Julian Gressel pulled an Asad and forced his way into the starting 11 with brilliant play in the preseason and despite a pedestrian season opener he’s started demanding league-wide attention and way-too-early rookie of the year talk.
Gressel was a flexible weapon in college and has fit in flawlessly as a midfielder who seems to understand what is asked of him and works to perform his duties as well as possible.
Miles Robinson was the second overall pick and has all the tools to be one of the better defenders in the league. While not necessarily ready to step in today he’s playing and learning behind veterans and team leaders like Parkhurst and Pirez. Robinson should see the field this year, especially as the season gets more cramped and complex. We can get a better idea of his raw potential then.
Third round pick Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu fought his way into the squad after four stellar years at Harvard. The defensive midfielder actually contributed to the offense at times while in school and could have the skill set to make an impact in Martino’s system.
The rock upon which Atlanta built it’s franchise. Before there were stars there were kids and Atlanta decided to grow them much in the way Marvin the Martian grew those fuzzy green martians: quickly and efficiently with intimidating intentions. We are starting to see it more around the league; teams investing in their academies and taking advantage of the league’s unique financial structure that rewards growth from within.
Atlanta took the initiative and absorbed one of the top academies in the soccer hotbed that is Georgia and instantly signed two of the most exciting kids in the nation to home-grown contracts. The headliner being midfield sensation Andrew Carleton who currently unable to legally but tobacco but looks like he could hold his own if thrown into the fray.
Chris Goslin was the second home-grown signing and has played second fiddle to Carleton in many casual eyes. Don’t let that distract you from the fact that he has spent time with the U-17 national team and was thought highly enough of by the club to sign at 17.
Two home-grown players aside, Atlanta has amassed an army of talent at different age groups. You should never expect every prospect to hit but Atlanta laid the groundwork ahead of time and has options in an ever hanging league.