Atlanta United is reportedly on the verge of trading integral midfielder Darlington Nagbe to the Columbus Crew for a truckload of allocation money. So what better way to drown our sorrows than to look at some potential replacements?
A note before we get started: this is for fun. This is not reporting. This is me browsing around a computer game, Football Manager 2020, to look at some players I’d be interested in if I were operating Atlanta United in an unrealistic setting. If this is your first time, check out some of our older posts for players we’ve dug up already, including Franco Escobar and Ezequiel Barco. I hope y’all enjoy and let me know in the comments what other players I should check out.
Also, these players are all Latino. I know there’s a sentiment that, with Frank de Boer’s arrival, we’ll start seeing an influx of Dutch players. Maybe we will, but as of now, all the data points we have would suggest an Argentine/Latino player would be the most likely. It’s also extremely hard to identify with any certainty what types of European players would even be attracted to coming over to play in MLS. And it’s not like De Boer has some sort of aversion to their playing style — he had plenty of South Americans at Ajax including Luis Suarez and Nico Lodeiro. Bu enough talking, let’s get to the first player.
Exequiel Palacios - CM - River Plate - 20 years old - 2 caps
I know what you’re thinking. Impossible. And yeah, you’re probably right, but I thought Ezequiel Barco was impossible too and look how that one turned out. Here’s the thing on Palacios: he’s amazing, which means the biggest clubs in the world (hello, Real Madrid) are sniffing around him. He’s been reported to be going to Inter Miami, which definitely seems possible as Inter’s chief director Paul McDonough helped launch Atlanta United and would have many contacts in this part of the world. And Miami will of course be a destination club for many South Americans.
But Atlanta has infrastructure and personnel in place to help facilitate arrivals of these players as we’ve obviously seen. The interesting part of this to me is the relationships Atlanta has with these clubs with whom they’ve made deals in the past. How would River react to Atlanta coming in for another one of its best players?
The other thing about Palacios is he’s definitely DP money. In fact, he’d cost like “most expensive transfer in MLS history” money, probably somewhere in the $20-$25 million range. So there’s that. Maybe Atlanta would have to move a DP, maybe they could use the allocation money from Nagbe to move Barco or Pity Martinez off of DP designation, or maybe the new CBA allows for a fourth DP. The benefit for any MLS team that were to sign Palacios is that he’d register as a young DP, meaning, at age 20, he’d only count $150k against the salary budget (normal caveats apply wrt new CBA).
Lucas Robertone - CM/AM - Velez - 22 years old - 0 caps
Robertone is a player heavily linked to Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, but he as all the skill to replace a player in Nagbe’s role. Robertone has the ability to get stuck in and do his defensive work while offering an ability and urgency to make runs into the box to help create and finish goals. He’s one of Velez’s (Yamil Asad’s former club) most consistent starters, and you can count on him to give you a little more production in terms of goals and assists than Nagbe did. For all of Nagbe’s good work, it’s crazy that he only scored three goals in 63 league starts for Atlanta. Robertone is a guy who’d offer a little more in that department.
Agustin Almendra - CM - Boca Juniors - 19 years old - 0 caps
Almendra is another young up-and-comer, and similarly to Palacious, he’d qualify under the youngest DP criteria at just 19 years old. He’s grown into his role in Boca Juniors’ midfield, becoming a regular starter for the first time in his professional career this season. Being so young, he doesn’t quite possess the physicality that is ideal to replace Nagbe like-for-like, but his skillset is certainly something that would be an asset to Atlanta. The departure of Nagbe means Atlanta’s midfield will likely operate differently, and De Boer, Bocanegra & Co. will likely replace the midfielder with someone with a wider range of incisive passing. It’s unlikely that Nagbe’s dynamic dribbling ability will be replicated in any new signing.
Matias Zaracho - CM - Racing Club - 21 years old - 1 cap
Racing has produced some fantastic players recently (Inter’s Lautaro Martinez among them) and Zaracho is another name on that list. He’s a young and well-rounded player, which is the reason he’s been a mainstay in Racing’s midfielde the last two seasons. A lot of these midfielders are of a similar profile (dynamic, offensive CMs) that all have questions about how well they can handle a more physical style of game. That’s what they’ll see and develop in MLS, which is why a move to America might make sense for any of these guys. Clubs around the world know these players have the technical ability, but if they can thrive in a league like MLS, it means they have the physicality to let that technical ability shine at the highest levels.
Guido Rodriguez - DM/CM - Club America - 25 years old - 4 caps
Rodriguez is an Argentine playing in Liga MX for Club America, and if it Atlanta were interested in recruiting him, it sure doesn’t hurt that he played and started for Club America in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the Campeones Cup. He’s not a like-for like replacement for Nagbe. In fact, he’d likely hold down a role in Atlanta’s midfield more reminiscent of what we’ve seen from Jeff Larentowicz, making Eric Remedi the box-to-box Nagbe replacement. With Rodriguez, you’re getting a player who is more physically mature at age 25, and also more tacitcally astute with more experience. The downside is the cost. I don’t know if his salary of 25k euros is completely accurate, but if not, it’s probably in that ballpark. Would Atlanta be willing to make a holding central midfielder a DP?
Or maybe Atlanta United will just go after Sadio Mane and Trent Alexander Arnold. Quoth the Maven, nevermore.