For a while there it looked like Atlanta United was going to have a quiet and, therefore, disappointing transfer window. Going into the two Charleston Battery friendlies, against Rangers FC and the Nigeria U23’s respectively, the only player ATL had nabbed was Chris McCann. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a Championship journeyman as much as the next MLS fan. McCann was a solid signing. But we wanted something more, dare I say, retweetable to come down the transfer pipe.
Enter Kenwyne Jones and Hector Villalba.
First, the striker that the MLS Analyst, Matthew Doyle, was already commanding current MLS clubs to snatch up was added to the fold. He even tweeted at Luda.
Then, Atlanta signed their first Designated Player. And it wasn’t an elder Englishman with bum knees. It was a YOUNG Designated Player — Tito Villalba, a 21 year-old Argentinian who is the soccer equivalent of a fighter jet. Pace on pace on pace on pace on pace.
While Atlanta seems to have done a window’s worth of good business, these guys do not a Starting XI make. So what’s next for Eales and Boca? Well, any out-of-contract player is fair game. If you want to deep dive down that rabbit hole you can have endless hours worth of fun on Transfermarkt. Apart from that there are always trades to be had for allocation money between fellow MLS clubs. Then, finally, it shall be the Year of Our Lord 2017, and the January transfer window will be open.
Here are the things I think Atlanta United should prioritize out of the gate:
Priority 1: Attacking Midfield
I’m not entirely sold on the idea that Villalba will play up top alongside Jones, despite what Carlos Bocanegra said at Villalba’s introductory presser. I think the young man is best when played out wide. Given that we have an exceptional target man in Kenwyne Jones, the first need to address in the winter transfer window is obviously the middle of the pitch.
In MLS you live and die by your midfield. You can slack on defense if you’d like. You’ll usually be able to find enough guys who can score on MLS defenses. But if your midfield is trash you are dead.
If we imagine that our team will be built around a Target Man (Jones) and a high-profile winger (Villalba) then attacking midfielders who can create chances seem to be the priority here.
The dream is a young South American #10 who can cut through defenses like butter. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t note that Benny Feilhaber may be looking to move on from Sporting KC. He’s not young by any stretch, but nobody is perfect.
Priority 2: Villalba’s Counterpart
If Atlanta United lines up in either a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, then we can expect Villalba bombing down the right-hand side and either whipping crosses into Kenwyne Jones or crossing-up defenders as he cuts back into the center. To make the attack truly formidable, however, Villalba needs a left-wing counterpart who will force defenses not to key solely on him.
My preference is to complement Tito with a player of similar build: a young, dynamic winger with pace and a knack for creating scoring chances. This way you build a veritable three-headed monster of an attack that can hurt you from any direction. To be honest, I don’t think there is a position that most MLS fans wouldn’t love to see filled by a young South American player with a mega high ceiling, but this is certainly a case in which dipping back into the South American pool would be worth it.
But that may not be the best way to go about it, especially if we sign a formidable no. 10 as a DP and don’t have a lot of cash leftover. If that does turn out to be the route that Eales and Boca take, then plumbing the depths of the out-of-contract market might be the way to go. Luton Shelton and Derk Boerrigter are names worth noting that are currently out-of-contract. We could also find a great winger in MLS, maybe one that just so happens to be looking to move on from a team in Canada.
[Pauses for a moment and dreams of Kekuta Manneh in Atlanta United colors]
Priority 3: Defense
This priority can be met a number of ways. I pointed out in a post prior to Copa America that Adrian Mariappa would be a nice DP signing at Centre Back, to continue the heavy Jamaican theme of this wish list.
Now MLS is not known for its marquee Designated Player signings at Centre Back. (Please don't sign John Terry. Please don’t sign John Terry. Please don’t sign John Terry.) We tend to spend money elsewhere, which is fine. It makes for a higher scoring ‘style of play’ and a more chaotic league table.
In that case, the best route to take may be to invest in the midfield like Atlanta United’s life depends on it (it does). We should look for a beast of a holding midfielder to support the back four and provide an anchor for maintaining possession. Here, nationality or current league makes no real difference. We just need a guy who isn’t afraid to put a few studs on some fools in order to shut down a counter-attack.
If you want a DP Holding Midfielder the likes of Cheik Tiote and Mile Jedinak will be out of contract next summer, though the idea of Tiote in Atlanta may be dreaming far too big. This is also where the obligatory Xabi Alonso mention has to happen. He’s not exactly one to shut down much of anything on defense, but he’s worth a look for the free-kicks alone.
The more realistic option is probably to grab a defender from MLS or a younger and thus affordable South American player — Pedro Azogue or Alejandro Melean are both Bolivian nationals who could be good fits.
Either way, the anchor of the midfield has to be a point of emphasis going forward in order to keep the wheels on during a tough opening road trip for our newly-minted expansion side.
Priority 4: Mario Balotelli
Hahahaha you know you want to.
Priority 5: No but seriously, Striker Depth
Every club in the world wants guys who can score goals. In the spirit of the Pokemon revival, you gotta catch em all and you gotta catch em while you can. Here we can mention a great many names that Atlanta United fans have been bandying about on social media. Could it be time to liberate Cubo Torres? If we could afford him could we really pass up Super Mario?
Most importantly, what if we can get Zlata—-aw now I’m sad.
The Super Draft and the possible Expansion Draft come into play here as well. Orlando City snagged Cyle Larin during the Super Draft in their expansion year. Could there be another Larin waiting for Atlanta United this year? Maybe.
If nothing else, there will surely be a set of players that can add needed attacking depth to a brand new squad available in the winer transfer window. Atlanta United need to strike fast and land as many as they can.