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Atlanta United ins and outs: Goalkeepers & Defenders

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Offering our opinions on the chances of each player at the back who could leave the club in the transfer window.

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

The Atlanta United offseason is upon us. The inevitable roster transition is only a matter of days from beginning. Once MLS Cup has concluded, the roster freeze will be over and teams can wheel and deal. It’s 100 percent likely that a player on the Five Stripes’ 2019 roster won’t be one the 2020 version, that’s just the reality of a league like MLS.

Before we get to the business at hand, let’s use some deductive reasoning and gut feelings to put a percentage on the chances that your favorite player will leave and break your heart. In this three-part series, we’ll go through the entire roster and guess how likely it is a player will leave before the start of next season. It’s important to note that contract info is not readily available in most cases and we’ll be guessing at a lot of the statuses of players heading into the winter.

Goalkeepers

MLS: MLS Cup Conference Finals-Toronto FC at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Guzan

Rob: For all the changes and uncertainty that came with this season and the Frank de Boer era, Guzan was a constant. He was, for lack of a better description, Brad Guzan. He made some mistakes, but more often than not, he was as reliable as they come in the league. It doesn’t seem likely he’ll be leaving any time soon as he’s on a very good contract and is highly unlikely to get more money anywhere else in the world. You have to think the club are perfectly fine with him in goal and as a team leader for the foreseeable future. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Joe: Yeah, not a ton to add, though I will note that The Athletic’s report on Frank de Boer’s annoyance/disagreement with goalkeeping coach Aaron Hyde is a factor to be considered here. From what I can tell, the relationship between Guzan and Hyde is more than a typical relationship between a player and coach — they are friends off the field. I don’t think this will lead to any sort of division between player and club, but it means I go with a higher number for the purposes of this conversation. Chances of leaving: 5%

Alec Kann

Rob: There’s not much analysis to give on a backup goalkeeper than appeared in no league games this season. What I can say is that Kann was a nice security blanket to have if Guzan went down. He’s proven to be a capable backup and I think he’s perfect for the role. There are only a couple of scenarios in which I could see Kann leaving. First would be if he wants a bigger role and a chance at starting. He’s obviously not getting that here. The second would be if the club wanted to bring in a younger goalkeeper as the backup to groom for the future. For that reason I don’t think it’s impossible Kann departs, but it’s still unlikely. Chances of leaving: 10%

Joe: Who would’ve thought that Alec Kann would be our first source of disagreement! I think he’s pretty likely to leave. His contract is probably close to being up, and as you said, he needs to play more games than Atlanta can give him. Brendan Moore is a young local goalkeeper (with professional experience in England) that was brought in last season, and I think he’s likely the successor to Kann’s role backing up Guzan. Chances of leaving: 65%

Brendan Moore

Rob: This is a name on the first-team roster that totally exists. Chances of leaving: 50%

Joe: Hey, he made the bench a couple times this year when Kann was sick! Moore also got 9 starts at USL level and did pretty well in those games, allowing 12 goals. Compare that to Kann, who allowed 9 goals in 4 starts, and I think you’ve got the makings of a swap in roles for these two guys. I’m not naive enough to think that these number are representative of their abilities as goalkeepers, but it’s not completely ignorable. Chances of leaving: 10%

Defenders

Mikey Ambrose

Rob: I rate Ambrose higher than most. As a backup left back, I think he’s pretty solid. But, he spent a good portion of the season with the reserves and was only called upon in an emergency situation. So, it doesn’t seem De Boer agrees with my assessment. There will be plenty of chances and mechanisms for the club to offload Ambrose if they don’t feel he has a place in the rotation for next season or simply want to upgrade the fullback positions. Chances of leaving: 35%

Joe: This is a tough one, and I think whether Ambrose stays or goes will be a bellweather as too how Frank de Boer wants to deploy his side tactically in 2020. If the manager wants to play a lot more 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 (which I do think is the case), I think Ambrose has a good chance of sticking around or signing an extension. FdB surely liked what he saw out of Ambrose in the playoffs, and he’s certainly versatile enough to be able to play as a LWB when needed. When looking at Ambrose, you kind of have to wonder what the marginal cost is of keeping him over Justin Meram. Meram patrolled that left side almost exclusively after Brek Shea’s injury, but he really faded down the stretch and it’s not his natural position. Meram is the better player between the two, but for what each is likely to cost, I’d go with Ambrose if I had to choose between the two. Chances of leaving: 20%

George Bello

Rob: Well, it wasn’t exactly the season we all envisioned for Bello. Many expected the 17-year-old to have a chance to start after the team traded Greg Garza in the offseason. However, after an injury in the very first match, things just didn’t pan out like that. Despite his struggles to regain form after his recovery, the future is still bright for the young left back. Unless there’s a shocking bid from Europe when he turns 18 in January, he’ll be back and fighting for a first-team place. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Joe: When we talk about this season’s regrets, I think one of them has to be the way the left back position was planned out. Darren Eales said in an interview on 92.9 The Game at some point this season that the team planned for George Bello to be the first choice left back as Greg Garza’s successor. In hindsight, that was a bad idea, as Bello only came on toward the end of last season after lingering groin issues affected him for much of 2018. That problem was never solved, obviously, and it brought an end to his 2019 season with the first team.

I liked de Boer’s decision to, upon his return to health this year, keep him training with the first team while playing matches exclusively with Atlanta United 2. This kid has had a lot of expectations placed on him because of his impressive showings at youth levels and even in his brief stint with the first team last season. Chances of leaving: 0%

Franco Escobar

MLS: MLS Cup Playoffs-Round One-New England Revolution at ATLANTA United FC John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Rob: It was a very up-and-down season for Franco. At times during the season he could’ve been considered the team’s most important defender. Then he’d go on stretches where he’d struggle mightily and the team’s overall defending seemed to follow suit. At just 24 years old, he’s still a desirable commodity for any club looking to upgrade. An argument could be made that Atlanta United would be wise to capitalize on value he’s built up in recent years if some bids do come in. A Liga MX club coming after his services wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. Chances of leaving: 30%

Joe: I think Escobar’s agent is likely to be out looking for suitors after he made lots of headlines for his play in the playoffs (with many of those articles harkening back to his tremendous run of form in last year’s MLS Cup run). Seems like a decent time to strike while the iron’s hot — unless de Boer sees him as a vital cog. And that’s where I’m unsure. I don’t think he’s preferred at CB. He makes too many mistakes in that position and isn’t good enough in duels to play in a a pairing at the back. But, he’s clearly the first choice right back. Chances of leaving: 30%

Leandro Gonzalez Pirez

Rob: Oh boy. This one could get wild. It seems like LGP leaving has been a topic of discussion since training camp opened in February. There was that big Boca Juniors rumor that never materialized. There’s also been talk of him leaving all season, it seems. He’s reportedly in the final year of his contract, but the player says he has an option. He and his wife also just had a child last season. If he’s going to leave, it feels like now is the time coming off honestly his worst of his three seasons at the club. Still, it would be really weird to see him go. Chances of leaving: 50%

Joe: There has to be some action when it comes to LGP, whether it’s a sale or an extension. With an option remaining on his deal, it doesn’t make fiscal sense to let him just play out his final year and lose him on a free. There’s been consternation from the player that, like Julian Gressel, he, his agent, and the club haven’t held discussions yet. But I understand it from the club’s perspective. Why enter negotiations in the middle of a season when the club is handcuffed by the salary cap? They can’t negotiate in good faith with any player without divulging their plans of who they will be hoping to sell. And the CBA of course matters hugely when it comes to a TAM player like LGP. There’s a good chance he leaves, but if I had to bet one way or another, I’d lean stay. They can’t turn over every CB on this roster. Chances of leaving: 35%

Michael Parkhurst

Officially announced his retirement.

Florentin Pogba

Rob: This is a tough one for me. Pogba was a surprising addition to the squad in preseason and took a while to transition into the first-team. Once he did he added real value with his great technique, intelligence and ability to pick out a pass. It’s unknown exactly how long his contract is, but you have to believe since he was a flier of a signing on a free transfer, it can’t be too long-term. I could see this one going either way. Pogba wanting to try and get back to Europe seems possible. The team wanting to go cheaper in the utility defender role also seems possible. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they find a way to bring him back if he’s grown fond of the club. Chances of leaving: 50%

Joe: This is speculation on my part, but I have to imagine Pogba’s deal was a 1-year contract, seeing as he hadn’t played soccer in at least six months before arriving. And his stock certainly went up. His fitness will remain a concern, especially with Atlanta United’s schedule that will remain just as crazy next year as it was this season. I feel like Pogba fits the mold that Frank de Boer wants out of his center backs — a guy that will just win every aerial duel and has decent ability on the ball. But if his contract is indeed up, the ball is in Pogba’s court and I have no idea how he’ll want to play it. Having talked to him in person a couple times this season, he certainly seems happy here and wouldn’t have a sporting reason to leave, but being closer to family in Europe is an allure that can’t be ignored. Chances of leaving: 50%

Miles Robinson

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Rob: What a season it was for Miles. I know he just signed a big contract extension that should keep him at the club for a long time. But let’s be honest with ourselves. Contracts in soccer are just a way to claim your property and up the value. If a team from Europe comes calling with big money, it’s not impossible that he leaves this winter. With that being said, if Arsenal or Manchester United don’t come in for $15 million, he’s coming back with huge expectations to replicate this season’s form. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Joe: I can’t say it much better than that. He’s a Defender of the Year caliber player in this league and at a young age. De Boer loves him. He’s going nowhere. I’d argue that even if a deal like you speculated were to materialize, Eales would almost certainly arrange a loan back for this season. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%