Social media was sent into delirium late Monday night when news broke that the Chicago Fire had completed the transfer for German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger. Mean jokes and serious outrage could be seen across the soccer twittersphere. If this transaction had occurred just five years prior, the tone of the reaction would’ve likely been positive. “Wow! This great player chose MLS! We’re a legitimate league now!” — This was MLS 2.0 — Atlanta United have entered the league and have already begun leading the charge of the new and improved MLS 3.0.
What the heck is MLS 3.0? I have no idea. I’ve never understood the Microsoft Windows decimal version lingo of league philosophies. From my best understanding, MLS 3.0 is all about buying young talent who are just entering or are in the middle of their prime. Talent that can bring up the collective level of play in the league. Your Mauro Diaz’s, Miguel Almiron’s, and Nico Lodeiro’s of the league.
Instead of relying on aging, brand name stars at the tail end of their careers to come in and help gain MLS recognition, MLS 3.0 is about improving the product on the field through overall quality and possibly increasing the value of those players to sell on for profit.
If MLS 3.0 is about buying players for a penny and selling for three or four, then Atlanta could literally be leading the movement. Outside of a few instances like DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Castillo, we’ve yet to see a team fully invest in this method. All three of club’s Designated Players are current irons in the fire. If eventually they are sold down the line, will the conveyor belt of young talent continue coming?
The mainstream MLS media have been salivating over Atlanta United since early December when the club signaled their intent of having a young, attacking mentality with the signing of Almiron as their second Designated Player. The team had previously signed Hector Villalba, another young standout of the Argentine league, but Almiron was different. He had been linked to big clubs in Europe like Arsenal in the past, but decided to come to MLS when persuaded by Tata Martino. He is a player who cost quite a lot of pennies by MLS standards, but could eventually be worth more in sell-on value than the league has ever seen.
Ever since then, Atlanta have continued to make move after move that the league hasn’t seen much of. Arthur Blank’s support and money is definitely helpful, but without guys in charge of the soccer side of things like Darren Eales, Carlos Bocanegra, and Paul McDonough it would be all for naught.
The technical staff have continuously made progressive moves that have created a blueprint on how to begin utilizing the MLS 3.0 philosophy. Like chess masters they have maneuvered their pieces across the board, sometimes thinking two or three steps ahead of the competition.
Chris McCann and Kenwyne Jones being purchased in the summer, only to magically end up with green cards in late February, making them domestic players to fit the league’s expansive roster requirements, is just one of the many examples. They had a plan to make Atlanta United a competitive force in MLS from their first match and onward. While it’s just three matches into the inaugural season and it could all go awry, the plan seems to have worked as intended.
It’s fitting that less than 24 hours after the Schweinsteiger move was announced that Atlanta had revealed the permanent transfer of their third Designated Player, who is only 23 years old, and is currently the most in-form player in the league. Atlanta United’s front office is playing chess while some MLS teams are still struggling with tic-tac-toe.