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Atlanta United ins and outs: Forwards

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Offering our opinions on the chances each player up top could leave the club in the transfer window.

MLS: MLS Cup Playoffs-Semifinals-Philadelphia Union at Atlanta United FC John David Mercer-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.

Part 1: Goalkeepers & Defenders

Part 2: Midfielders

Forwards

Ezequiel Barco

Rob: It was a tale of two season for Barco. He started off the season in red-hot form before sustaining an injury. He never consistently produced, but we finally got to see the Ezequiel Barco that the club paid $15 million for. I’m hopeful 2020 is the year we see it all come together and he starts putting up the numbers fitting of a star player in MLS. The U-20 World Cup helped his value, but I’m not sure the time is right to sell unless a good offer comes in. Age is the ultimate factor when determining transfer value and the older he gets the lower it becomes. If you’re going risk it and wait another year, you have to be confident in his ability to succeed next season. Chances of leaving: 10%

Joe: I’m surprised your percentage is so low, but I’m happy to see it. You and I have talked plenty about Barco in private, and you know that I’m as bullish as anyone on his talent and his future prospects. We just haven’t seen that talent manifest itself in production — goals and assists. But if you think about any of Atlanta’s best periods of form this season, they all occurred when Barco was playing regularly. If Atlanta United had won MLS Cup and/or Barco had a couple highlight goals in these playoffs, I think we’d be singing a much different tune about him in an article like this. I think he’s a player de Boer really depends upon, as evidenced by him being selected over Pity Martinez in a couple crucial games to end the season. Chances of leaving: 15%

Jon Gallagher

Rob: Gallagher has appeared 19 times so far for Aberdeen while on loan from Atlanta. At that rate, I would think they would want to extend his loan for the rest of the season (assuming it hasn’t already). And I see no reason why Atlanta wouldn’t allow that to happen seeing as he’s getting good experience. Let the loan play out and evaluate him in the spring. Chances of leaving: 5%

Joe: I’ll be honest, I forgot Gallagher was still an Atlanta United player. I agree that the most likely course is his loan will just be extended, but I think there’s a decent chance they just come to terms on a small purchase. I don’t think as of now he’s in Atlanta’s long term plans, because another right back wouldn’t have hurt the first team Chances of leaving: 30%

Lagos Kunga

Rob: Lagos appeared 22 times for Memphis 901 FC (yes, that’s a real team) on loan and scored a goal and added two assists. He turned 21 in October so he’s still relatively young. While it’s unrealistic to expect him to step in and contribute for the first-team next season, if Frank de Boer’s grand plan is to play the 4-3-3, having wingers who can beat defenders will be a necessity and that’s one thing Kunga is good at. Hopefully he gets a chance to prove himself in preseason. Chances of leaving: 10%

Joe: Lagos Kunga is a name on this list. He has a long way to go to the first team, but I hope he doesn’t get loaned out again and we can get a chance to watch him in Kennesaw next season. Having said that, I think there’s a reason he was loaned, and it’s probably because he wasn’t going to get those 22 appearances in Atlanta, even for the 2s. He’s a homegrown though, so it’s not like Atlanta has much impetus to get rid until his contract is up. Chances of leaving: 15%

Pity Martinez

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

Rob: There’s just no need to rehash everything that’s been written and said about Pity and Frank. It’s clear that there’s a difference of opinion and styles between them. Frank isn’t going anywhere and I just can’t see this relationship going any further or getting repaired. The only way I see Pity staying is if there’s absolutely no market out there for them. I can’t see one down year in his career causing that. Surely there are teams out there who value him as an impact signing. Atlanta may have to swallow their pride and admit defeat by taking a loss on a transfer fee to make a deal happen. But I think inevitably one gets done. Chances of leaving: 80%

Joe: I agree, and it gives me no joy to say that I think there’s a very high chance of him leaving. In a perfect world, he’d have come in and dominated MLS. But he didn’t, and now I think the reason we probably don’t see him back is that a move seems like it’d be mutually beneficial. Atlanta will want to clear his DP designation from the books and try again just as much as Pity will be looking to play for a manager not named Frank de Boer. It just didn’t work. These things happen, and the best thing to do is to rip the band-aid off as soon as possible. Even if the finances are painful in the short term, it’s time to reinvest in a different player that the manager feels he can improve. Chances of leaving: 80%

Josef Martinez

Rob: Hell no. Chances of leaving: 0%

Joe: lol. Hear, hear!

Brandon Vazquez

Rob: At just 21, Vazquez still has a ton of upside. He had a solid season for the first-team. I think if Atlanta United lose anyone in the Expansion Draft, it could be him. I could see a team like Miami go after him, especially with Paul McDonough there. Chances of leaving: 20%

Joe: I thought Vazquez just sneakily had his best season as a professional. He had fewer appearances than Tata Martino gave him in his first year in 2017, but in 2019 in the league he logged more than 3x the minutes. He made seven starts this season — that’s great progress — and while his finishing needs work, I think his link-up play and ideas of how to combine with creative players like Pity and Barco were really good. He has a creative soccer mind, he just needs to improve his technique, but I hope the club can bring him back. De Boer finally has him playing in his natural position, and that’s helping his development. Good call on Miami though. I think that will be a temptation for sure. Chances of leaving: 15%

Tito Villalba

Rob: There’s no clear picture of Tito’s contract status. You have to remember that he signed with the club before the first season, so technically he’s been with the team on contract for four years now. Unless he signed a five-year deal, he could be a free agent. Couple that with the fact that Frank just doesn’t seem to rate him as a player for his style of play and common sense tells us we’ve probably seen the last of him. That’s tough to take, personally. Tito has been involved in some of the club’s most iconic moments so far. Not having him around will be a shock. Chances of leaving: 95%

Joe: You and I have talked at points this season where it felt like us (media), players, front office, etc. were just anxious to get this season over with so that the squad could be shaped more to De Boer’s liking (remember, when he was appointed, transfers/squad building was already in motion without his input). I think Tito is a pretty solid representation of that. Even when he started to get time late in the season, he seemed more of a crazy wrinkle off the bench than part of a more cohesive role within the team. He will leave, and we’ll all have pretty great memories of his time in Atlanta. Chances of leaving: 99%