Alright Don Garber – it’s time to make some decisions.
Atlanta United is about eight months (depending on when you read this) from their first kick-off and still, we have more questions than answers in regards to a number of issues that will shape the 2017 MLS season, specifically for Atlanta United. It’s always scary trying to build a new piece of furniture from IKEA. But, imagine someone ripping half of the instructions out of the manual and being told to continue building. Then, that person tells you they may introduce an entirely new piece to collection of disassembled parts. That’s basically what the Atlanta United front office is dealing with right now.
The most immediate issue MLS needs to address concerns whether Atlanta United will go through the Expansion Draft scheduled for early December. Atlanta United needs a chance to formulate a plan to build their roster, but that plan is rendered useless when pieces are missing or new pieces can be added to the equation. While not much talent comes from an Expansion Draft, the attainable talent can add to the depth a team has for their inaugural season. Without it, the demand to assemble a roster from outside of MLS increases, which potentially means more Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) and General Allocation Money (GAM). It could also mean more international slots, the preferred method seeing as how pulling top talent from across world soccer would probably fare much better than "last guys off the bench" players within MLS.
The other issue concerns Minnesota United. Are they in or are they out? Popular belief is that MLS is waiting on finalized plans for a stadium before officially announcing MNUFC as part of the 2017 season. Unfortunately for Atlanta, that hold up could also be the reason why the club still doesn’t know if they’ll partake in an Expansion Draft. It won’t hurt Minnesota as badly because of the NASL roster they currently have in place. MNUFC will likely keep most of their current NASL squad intact, giving them an advantage over Atlanta United. In a way, both teams have been inconvenienced by MLS in one way or the other, whether through MNUFC's name change or ATLUTD's inability to properly plan for 2017. The Atlanta United front office has said they’re planning for both. My hope is that a late decision favors them in whatever path they’re leaning towards.
As history has pointed out, it’s already tough being an expansion team in MLS. Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge and not knowing what to expect from the league office has made it tougher for Atlanta United. The bright side is that the team seems to have a great grasp as to the kind of players to scout for MLS. The presumed signing of Hector Villalba from the Primera Division in Argentina proves just that - a pacey player with a knack for goals and can handle the physicality of the league. The team’s link to Andres Guardado also exemplifies that the Atlanta United front office isn’t just looking at a player’s market value. The true test will lie in where the team finds their depth. That’s where the uncertainty hits hardest.
Really, everything boils down to a simple questions – Is Minnesota United in or out?