In an effort to scour the soccer globe and bring along names and ideas for players that Atlanta United could look at signing in the coming season, Dirty South Soccer has been looking in every nook and cranny of the universe for talent. Rob dug up some MLS players that the Five Stripes could trade for while Joe Patrick is pulling together preposterously talented South Americans.
This list is a little bit different and looks at the top players in USL and NASL as well as including an MLS castoff or two and a CONCACAF rising talent. None of the names are that flashy and there’s some risk here, so let’s call this a list of acceptable, but not transcendent talents that Atlanta United could find useful in 2018.
A fan favorite who never really found a place with NYCFC, Kwadwo Poku offers a lot to MLS teams, more specifically Atlanta United. Poku can play a variety of roles on the field from attacking midfielder to deep lying playmaker. He was the midfield anchor for a Miami FC team that took both the spring and fall seasons in NASL.
In the one game Poku played against Atlanta United this season, he showed his skills and punished Atlanta’s mistakes. In the Open Cup victory over Atlanta, he sparked a goal when he muscled the ball away from Chris McCann at midfield, charged up the field, and fed a pass to his teammate for an equalizing goal (pressure in midfield and a lightning quick chance in transition? sound familiar?).
He also had the game winner when Atlanta was caught with no defensive shape and Poku beat Alec Kann one on one to advance in the tournament.
Another element of Poku’s game that would be an asset to Atlanta United is physicality. At times, the Five Stripes lacked the instinct to go full CONCACAF on teams, like D.C. United or Sporting Kansas City, who wanted to play ugly and disrupt Atlanta’s creative playmakers. His ability to dish out carnal punishments when games get messy would address a gap that United has in its roster.
Of course, the downside to Poku coming to Atlanta is that he would have to take a pay cut, he’s currently vastly overpaid in NASL making between $300,000 and $350,000, five times what he was making at NYCFC, and he would end up sacrificing playing time. The point of this exercise is to dream and if Poku isn’t coming to Atlanta due to these barriers, a player with his skills who can come off of the bench or pick up a spot start here or there would be ideal for the Five Stripes.
The Charleston Battery center back had a terrific 2017 and would have a lot to offer Atlanta United. Lasso is a towering physical player at 6 foot 5 and would add much needed size to the Atlanta United backline. Both Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Michael Parkhurst are under 6’1” and the team is fairly undersized elsewhere on the pitch. This has hurt United in the past, like against Kendall Waston, and a player with Lasso’s attributes would be ideal for picking up spot starts in the backline.
He could also come on late in games to put away matches when teams desperately fling crosses into the box or have set pieces that threaten late leads. Not to mention that he has a nose for goal as Atlanta learned in the U.S. Open Cup matchup between the teams.
The 24 year-old took a big step forward with the Battery in 2017. He was an integral player for Charleston and ended the year on the USL All-League Team.
Who? Kevin Alvarez is a right back who plays for CD Olimpia in the Liga Nacional in Honduras and has represented that country at both the youth and senior level. Alzarez started for the Honduras U-23 side that beat the U.S. U-23s in Olympic qualifying back in October 2015. He is 21 years old and plays a position of need for the Five Stripes. Aside from making three starts for Honduras in the 2016 Men’s Olympic Soccer Tournament, he earned a place on the CONCACAF League Best XI.
Central American players have had relatively decent success in MLS. The Houston Dynamo, for example, are on the brink of a MLS Cup appearance thanks in no small part to the play of Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis. Alvarez is the kind of player that MLS teams should have on their radar.
The North Carolina FC midfielder had another standout year in 2017 making the league’s Best XI. Jeff Reuter of Four-Four-Two had an extensive scouting report on the 26 year-old noting that his ball handling, composure, vision, and stamina were his key attributes. He mostly played as a box-to-box player in 2017 but has also shown his versatility playing on the wing and as a no. 10.
Tata Martino loves players he can slot into multiple positions and a player with his skills would no doubt be valuable to Atlanta United. Julian Gressel occupies a similar role, but he was most effective on the wing this year. In addition, it is unclear if the team will be bringing back players like Chris McCann and Kevin Kratz, so central midfield could be a spot that needs more depth than is currently apparent.
Rob already did a MLS players that the team should target list so think of him as an addendum to that article. Villarreal has long been a promising talent in MLS with the Galaxy and Galaxy II but has never had a real chance in the league. Apparently that wasn’t going to happen with the LA Galaxy either, even as the team slid further and further down the table as 2017 wore on and he was released after the 2017 season ended.
A change of scenery is definitely in order for the 24 year-old, though it is frankly more than a little surprising that the Galaxy couldn’t figure a way to work him into their plans for next season. He was largely a casualty of Bruce Arena’s move to play the olds in 2016 as he seemingly drilled holes into the hull of LA’s ship on the way out the door to sinking the USMNT in World Cup Qualifying.
As far as where he could play, Villarreal is a forward and would add to the attacking options for the Five Stripes in 2018.
The list of players Atlanta United could be looking at in 2018 is ever expanding and it should be a lot of fun this offseason to think about who can come in and make a difference for the team next year.