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The story of how Atlanta United’s roster was probably assembled

An inside look at roster building in MLS

MLS: Orlando City SC at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Have you ever wondered what it’s like trying to build a roster from scratch? There are of course many aspects to this process: understanding the complexities of MLS roster rules, draft selections, trades, and much else besides. It’s a daunting task, and one which most expansion teams struggle mightily with. Atlanta United has navigated through it all with expertise and class. The on-field product has been exciting, and everything the team has done so far has impressed the league as a whole.

One part of it all that sometimes gets overlooked is the negotiations with the players themselves. Because of our close relationship with the Atlanta front office, Dirty South Soccer has been granted exclusive access to the recordings of Coach Gerardo Martino’s personal phone conversations with prospective players as he put his team together. Of course, most of these were in Spanish, so they were handed over to the DSS Linguistics Department for translation. That would be me. Unfortunately, I only speak French and German, so we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the transcriptions below.

Let’s take a look at how things went:

[Phone rings]

MIGUEL ALMIRON: Hello? Miguel here.

GERARDO MARTINO: Hello, Miguel. This is Tata Martino.

MA: Tata! Great to hear from you. How are you doing?

GM: Very well, thank you. In fact, I’m the coach at the new Atlanta team and…

MA: Yes.

GM: Uh...what? I didn’t ask you anything.

MA: But you’re a legend, Coach. Whatever you need, the answer’s yes.

GM: Well, um, thank you. I would like to ask if you’ll consider joining the team.

MA: Of course! One thing, though.

GM: OK. What is it?

MA: Do you have a good dental plan?

Well, that seems fairly easy. Having a Latin American coach with a great reputation obviously helps. But of course, Atlanta were in a competitive situation to find players, as we weren’t the only expansion team. Through an anonymous source, we have obtained similar recordings from Minnesota United. Let’s see how things went up north:

[Phone rings]


ADRIAN HEATH: Hello, this is Adrian Heath.

UP: Who?

AH: Adrian Heath. I’m the coach at the new Minnesota United team in MLS.

UP: Where?

AH: Minnesota.

UP: You’re kidding. Where were you before?

AH: Orlando.

[Phone goes dead]

AH: Hello? Hello?

Not such a smooth process after all, then, perhaps. Let’s check back in with Atlanta, and see how the youth development recruiting went:

[Phone rings]

ANDREW CARLETON: Hey, Andrew here.

GM: Hello, Andrew! I’m Gerardo Martino. I’m your new coach and I wanted to introduce myself. People call me Tata.

AC: I know. It means grandpa in Spanish. Can I call you Gramps?

GM: No. Anyway, I need to talk to you about...

AC: You’re going to have to tell my agent.

GM: Excuse me…your agent?

AC: He says not to say anything without him.

GM: That’s not really how it works. What I was going to...

AC: It’s in my contract.

GM: What? In your contract?

AC: Yeah! That nice Mr. Eales can explain it. See you at training, Gramps. Bye!

GM [Hits mute, says something unintelligible about kids these days, sighs, unmutes phone]: Yes, goodbye Andrew.

Youth players are clearly getting more sophisticated these days. Back to Minnesota to see how things are progressing:

[Phone rings]


AH: Hello, this is Adrian Heath. I’m...

UP2: Yeah, I was warned you might be calling.

AH: What? Warned? Who?

UP2: Yeah. See ya.

[Phone goes dead]

AH: Hello? Oh, come...

Tata wasn’t just interested in South American talent and young future stars. He also needed some veteran savvy:

[Phone rings]


GM: Jeff, this is Gerardo Martino. I’m putting my team together here in Atlanta and I could really use your experience.

JL: Thanks, Coach. Glad you called. Things are going to pot here in LA.

GM: That so? How come?

JL: It’s not the same since Bruce left. The new guy is wrecking everything. All he’s interested in is Latin American hotshots and youth development. I don’t speak Spanish, and these snotty kids think they’re all that.

GM: Er…okay…

JL: Count me in.

GM [coughing]: Sure...great...welcome.

Checking back in with Minnesota:

[Phone rings]


AH: Hey, this is Adrian He…

[Phone goes dead]

AH: Oh, for…

And of course, no team is complete without a star striker. Things got a little tricky on this one:

[Phone rings]

JOSEF MARTINEZ: Hello, this is Josef.

GM: Josef! Tata Martino! Interested in coming to Atlanta?

JM: Atalanta? They just got a new coach. They fired him already?

GM: No, no. At-lant-a.

JM: Oh, you mean in America?

GM: Exactly. I’ve already lined up some great players. I got Miguel Almiron, Yamil Asad, Carlos Carmona

JM: Carmona? So you are Atalanta?

GM: Yeah, it’s a bit confusing, I know. Took some explaining with Carlos, too.

JM: Carlos is a bit of a hacker, Coach. I hope you got a good backup.

GM: Hmm, I’ll keep that in mind. Anyway, I think you’ll love it here. They have baseball.

JM: Baseball? Atlanta has baseball? I like that. Are they any good?

GM: Weeelll…

And finally, Minnesota sees some light at the end of the tunnel:

[Phone rings]

AH: Adrian Heath here.

UNIDENTIFIED PLAYER 4: Coach! Help! It’s Kevin. Please, get me out of here!