clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The mailbag to end all mailbags

Taking your questions about anything and possibly everything Atlanta United

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

This is going to be long so, let’s just get right to the questions.

Obviously you never know, but I’d lean toward yes, actually. After all, Atlanta United could technically still make the playoffs even as we sit here right now (not saying it is even remotely likely to happen, mind you). Does that mean it was a mistake to go separate ways when they did? Not at all. Darren Eales was right when he talked about “the direction of travel,” and I commend the club for doing the right thing and ripping the band-aid off when they did.

The reason I think they might’ve just nudged themselves above the playoff line if de Boer was still around is that I think he’d do a slightly better job organizing the attack and patterns of play to help create chances. Yes, I know how that sounds! But the lack of chance creation is what has seen this team fall into turgid territory, consistently creating ~0.5 expected goals per game. The result is a team that has scored fewer goals than matches played this season. The sample size of 2020 Atlanta United under FdB is small, but even looking at the 1.94 xG created vs. Cincinnati on March 7 and the 1.58 xG generated in the first game of MLS is Back against Red Bulls makes me think this team would be slightly better offensively right now. They’re probably better defensively under Glass, but the team needs goals and I think they’d have a better chance of getting those under de Boer.

This is a nice segue from the previous question, because in my mind what clearly hurts the most is the team’s impotence in attack. Since returning after the hiatus in MLS is Back (19 matches played) the team has scored more than one goal three times. Three times! And one of those was in a 4-2 loss to Nashville SC. You can caveat the reasons for the drop-off in any number of ways and I’d agree with the validity of them, but it’s still just staggering to see what the identity this team built on the field has turned into. It’s something that feels foreign, and it’s why people are feeling disconnected. This is not what they saw that first night at Bobby Dodd Stadium—a game they lost!

Yes. Will it happen this calendar year? Debatable. I’d guess probably not. Piggy-backing off the last question, the uncertainty as to the future of the team and what it wants to build itself into in its next iteration is another frustrating aspect of the season, no doubt. You can live with struggling if you can see, even hypothetically, the longer-term plan. Right now, following this team feels like that plastic bag floating in the wind from American Beauty.

I think the club brass knows that this year is a shit sandwich. The plan seems to be to recoil into the turtle shell, wait for it to be over, and start to rebuild on the field and off. Of course in the meantime, they are planning what is next. I wouldn’t mistake the silence as an indication of a lack of progress on all fronts. I’m sure they are evaluating what players should stay and which might be moved; how they can improve their recruitment, internal and external scouting; how they can win fans back over from a marketing perspective etc.

It’s been a rough year for everyone covering this team, let’s be honest. It’s not like anyone involved in the Atlanta United sphere has been on their A-game for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. For example, our once weekly editions of Five Stripe Final have now turned into sporadic episodes, simply because it’s not worth anyone’s time to keep repeating the same critiques, explanations, etc. It’s just not a fun time.

That said, I think there’s strategy to the silence (and it can be debated whether it’s a prudent one). As far as weekly radio hits go, I imagine the strategy is to avoid a Streisand Effect of sorts where you just draw attention to something (the team’s performance) that you’d rather not. The silence on the managerial search also has an obvious benefit, but it comes at a risk of fan apathy.

He’ll definitely make the team better, but I’d disagree that he—for lack of a better phrase—solves most of the problems we’ve seen this year. The team needs better solutions for creating the chances that Josef can get on the end of. I think if there’s any stat that speaks to the fact that Josef isn’t the only thing missing from this team in 2020 it’s this:

Is Josef the ideal striker to run onto throughballs? Yes. Does that account for the dearth of chances created from those passes this year? Hell no. So I don’t think Josef’s absence is the sole reason for the precipitous fall of the team this year, and I don’t think his return alone will reverse the course of that fall.

However, someone like Marcelino Moreno + Josef can. And if Ezequiel Barco is sold (something I suspect the player certainly wants at this point) and you replace him with another high-performing DP, well, you got a stew goin’.

This is assuming Larentowicz retires (or plays a bit part role) and some players are moved on (Meza has been linked to TIjuana, Remedi, Barco). Behind these players, you still have some decent depth options: Brooks Lennon can still play in either of the roles on the right, Jon Gallagher has proven to be an effective energetic attacking player, Anton Walkes is very capable all across the back line. As for Escobar, I think he’s best as a center back, but I’m still undecided if he helps the team more playing at RB or CB. I feel like Miles Robinson is better served with an experienced, passing CB next to him, and I’m not sure Escobar fits that mold. The other nice thing about Escobar at RB (or Walkes for that matter) is you can change shape in game to a back 3 like we saw them do toward the back half of 2019.

No one enjoys “being negative,” but we are just observing and dealing with reality, and it’s an ugly reality right now so I get it. Adam Jahn was brought in to be the kind of striker who can help you late in games with set pieces on both sides of the ball. He was not brought in with the expectation that he would play nearly as many minutes as he has, nor in the circumstances he’s been in. I’d be surprised if he’s back, less to do with his ability and more around freeing up some cap space, particularly when you have a striker in Jackson Conway in USL that brings a similar physical toolset, plus upside.

Meza has struggled to settle into the team tactically, much of which can be credited to the crazy circumstances of the season. Given the media reports, I’d be surprised if he’s back. If he is back, I’d expect a much better year out of him in 2021 in a more settled group.

Without telling you a specific name, I’ll just offer some advice: Look at the roster and only consider a name who sparks joy. If that isn’t apparent, maybe go with “IStandfor90” or something.

Unfortunately, the Saudi Arabian offers are like manna from heaven and can’t be reliably counted upon to simply get one’s money back for a player. And speaking of: it appears that if the team does want to try to move Barco on this winter, they won’t be getting their money back (or profiting), which unfortunately means no added GAM. It’s not the biggest deal in the world, and you can argue that NOT moving him comes at a bigger opportunity cost than whatever cash is lost in a deal.

But even in a normal world, getting value for Barco would be difficult given his injury history and lack of goal-producing production. In a post-COVID world, the market for players like this is even more suppressed. It feels like a situation where the club will have to swallow a bitter pill. He’s now nearly completed three years in Atlanta, and if his contract was only for four years (something we DON’T know for certain, but seems likely), you’re almost certain to see him go. Where? Your guess is as good as mine.

While the lack of any credible links to Atlanta’s job is puzzling, I don’t think for a second that it means there hasn’t been work done or progress made in the search. We’ll have a lot more on this once the season finally comes to an end, overviewing the pros and cons of various potential candidates. I don’t know about LA, but it’s clear that Atlanta prefers to keep this project under wraps as much as possible. It’s still surprising we aren’t even seeing much speculation touted by agents, etc.

Well, he’s suffering through some sort of injury. At first it took us all by surprise since they didn’t announce his injury until he actually missed a game, and we’ve been led to believe it’s pretty minor. But as has been well documented, the team is keeping all this stuff under wraps, and what’s crazy is that it’s all perfectly legal according to MLS’s rules (something I suspect might change soon considering the league’s leveraging of the sports betting market).

Well, I feel like we’ve been pretty critical here, but we always try to use evidence be it statistical, reporting, or both to back it up. I’m never opposed to a criticism or plaudits so long as there’s a valid argument to be made.

There’s this saying that two things can be true. I think the roster has been pretty badly mismanaged—my biggest gripe being with the players that were moved on than the chosen “replacements” (I understand the salary cap argument and grant that SOME players simply couldn’t be retained). That said, this is the one season where teams in Atlanta’s position would be punished the most. With games coming so quickly, there is no time to really train hard and work things out. And with COVID, you can’t even do some of the team bonding exercises like you once could. So it’s a combination of mismanagement and terrible timing in my eyes.

I’m just gonna leave this one at “lol.”

He was a $15 million purchase because 1) Atlanta hoped he’d realize his potential that would see him become a player that would surpass that value 2) As a team in a less-desirable league for young foreign talent, Atlanta has to prospect on these types of signings and hope they strike gold.

But you’re right in your inclination that he never turned into the kind of attacking dynamo that would see him sought after by the biggest clubs in Europe. He’s shown flashes at times, but his inconsistency of play and health is going to put teams off. It’s striking to me that if you go back, he looked as good (or better) at times in 2018 than he does now—years later. And for Atlanta, it’s brutal because you really need Designated Players to do the hardest thing in soccer which is to create and score goals. You’re getting 0 from Josef’s DP slot, you got little from Pity/nobody/Moreno, and Barco has only started 8 of the 19 games since the MLS restart, in which he has no goals and only two assists (he had two goals and an assist in the first two games).

I think it’s been pretty rough, but I’m surely jaded as most of what I’m watching is a bottom-of-the-table team. That said, one of the concerns the players had this summer when hashing out labor negotiations was the playing conditions (MLS is Back setup, fixture congestion, training time, etc.) and I can only imagine how many players are left frustrated that they aren’t in a position to play their best due to circumstances. And while I’m sure that sentiment exists in Atlanta, it surely goes far beyond. Credit to the players, who are enduring a brutal schedule.

As to your second question, I don’t think Atlanta is necessarily worse than we think, but I think the team has been spared some uglier results by opposition not feeling the need to keep pushing the scorelines late in games.

Without repeating myself too much, I could think getting good pieces in the roles you mention would indeed go a long way in fixing what ails this team, and MLS is a league built for a team to potentially vault itself to a new level in a short period of time. This team is not doomed for all eternity, it just seems like that because we’ve kind of known where this particular season has been heading for so long now. This team can return to a top four finish in the East next year imo. They could also remain flailing around mid-table. We’ll see.