We are roughly two weeks from the first preseason game of the year and it is abundantly clear the team will look different for the season opener against Columbus. Atlanta has made several transfers, both in and out, with lots of changes in the defense, especially. So this begs the question, what will the team actually look like this coming season?
Transfer Window Overview
While the winter transfer window is far from over, the majority of the trade rumors discussed in the past weeks have all either come to fruition or died away as Atlanta United and Gonzalo Pineda get start their preseason camp. So what moves has Atlanta made? The Five Stripes' first set of roster construction decisions came soon after the end of the season when Atlanta made their end-of-season roster moves announcement in which the team had sweeping departures. United declined options on Homegrown Players Machop Chol, Jackson Conway, Efrain Morales, and Justin Garces as well as the one-year option for Clément Diop. In addition, Ozzie Alonso, Miguel Berry, Matheus Rossetto, Amar Sejdic, and Quentin Westberg were out of contract. Juanjo Purata and Xande Silva also had loans ending at the end of the season, Atlanta kept Xande and let Juanjo return to Tigres UANL.
Berry, Chol, Conway, Garces, Purata, and Rossetto are eligible for the Re-Entry Draft. In addition, Alonso, Diop, Sejdic, and Westberg became eligible for Free Agency. Sadly, Miles Robinson also joined FC Cincinnati out of free agency and Ibarra was loaned out to Rosario Central. To finish off the exiting players, Garrison Tubbs and Jonantan Villal were transferred to DC United and San Luis, respectively.
This massive amount of departures from the club, 14 to be exact, left the front office with lots of room to work and a need for signings. To bolster the roster the team signed Stian Gregersen from Bordeaux, MLS veteran Dax McCarty, keeper Josh Cohen, and ex-Championship and League One center back Derrick Williams. The team has also been linked to signing Bartosz Slisz from Polish giants Legia Warszawa, however it has not been made official (as of 9:22 am on the 16th of January). The signings have all been very defensive focused, which is needed given our defensive record and lack of depth, with the new acquisitions being 2 center backs, a defensive midfielder, and a goalkeeper.
What do the sweeping roster moves mean for how the team will look in 2024? As it stands, Atlanta United's roster includes 3 goalies, Quentin Westberg; Brad Guzan; and Josh Cohen, 8 defenders, Derrick Williams; Luis Abram; Brooks Lennon; Ronald Hernández; Caleb Wiley; Aiden McFadden; Noah Cobb; and Stian Gregersen, 6 midfielders, Tristan Muyumba; Thiago Almada; Santiago Sosa; Ajani Fortune; Erik Centeno; and Dax McCarty, and 7 forwards, Georgios Giakoumakis; Jamal Thiaré; Derrick Etienne; Saba Lobzhanidze
Edwin Mosquera; Tyler Wolff; and Xande Silva. This 24 man roster could improve with some depth but is fairly well balanced for Pineda's classic 4-3-3/ 4-2-1-3 system. Almada will never be easy to replace but it does concern me that he is our only 10 and, while you could play a winger in the role, it would be beneficial to have another true 10 that can be a replacement Almada when he leaves and help bare the massive minute load that comes with being an MLS player. Ignoring the understandable lack of Almadas, the team has at least one semi-decent replacement for each role. If the team were to play today, my strongest line up would be:
There were only a few positions that I had to really think about: goalkeeper, center back, and central midfielder. In goal, Brad Guzan is getting old but I'm not sure I'd prefer a Josh Cohen or Quentin Westberg so, for now, I prefer Brad in goal. As far as center backs, there are 3 possible options in Luis Abram, Derrick Williams, and Stian Gregersen. I think Gregersen has to be a starter, he is a towering 6 foot 3 defender and was very successful in France and Norway. The real decision is between Luis Abram and Derrick Williams, and I have never really been a big Abram fan, he has good pass accuracy and tackle success rate but is fairly mediocre after that. Derrick Williams is better at long balls, aerial duels, and getting involved in set pieces, all of which is why I think he deserves the start. Lastly, in central midfield Muyumba and Almada are locked in starters but Muyumba's partner is up in the air. Between Dax McCarty and Ajani Fortune Pineda has two good players with slightly different skill sets. McCarty is a holding midfielder and reminiscent of Jeff Larentowicz in every way, he is a veteran defensive midfielder and he is even a ginger. Ajani Fortune is younger, but not actually super young, and is better at progressing the ball up the field and helping the attack. Despite this slightly more attack focus, I would play McCarty, at least to start because we need veteran leadership, especially if Brad Guzan loses his starting spot.