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Atlanta United 2020 ins and outs: Goalkeepers & Defenders

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Offering our opinions on the chances that each player at the back could leave the club in the offseason.

MLS: Atlanta United-Workouts Handout Photo via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It’s Atlanta United offseason time once again. The inevitable roster transition is only a matter of days from beginning. A rotten 2020 season has everyone wondering what the next iteration of the Five Stripes will look like. Let’s use some deductive reasoning and gut feelings to put a percentage on the chances that your favorite (or least 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: Atlanta United FC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Guzan

Rob: It’s been a weird year for nearly every player on the roster and none more so than Brad Guzan. His form undeniably dipped this season alongside the club’s overall struggles. Whether it be individual mistakes or inability to stop certain shots, the status of Atlanta’s stalwart in goal is very much in question heading into a new era. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of any goalkeeper eating a ton of your salary cap and especially not using key resources on an aging and potentially declining player. If I were the front office, I’d explore opportunities to move him on and look to go cheaper in net. However, realistically, you’re probably not going to get rid of a team leader when you’re already expecting a good amount of roster turnover. Chances of leaving: 10%

Joe: I totally understand why fans would hypothetically want to take a chance on a younger, more inexperienced, but — to your point — cheaper goalkeeper. And obviously that argument is less a knock on Guzan and more about the way you or I would prefer resources to be allocated through the roster. I think it’s worth pointing out some of the reasons Guzan is worth having around. He’s a stabilizer — a player that has a real voice inside the dressing room and is a touchpoint back to the MLS Cup-winning team in 2018. I think his shot stopping is still pretty decent, though his footwork is not always perfect and sometimes makes him vulnerable to a howler. And those are the ones we remember, but he’s made a hell of a bunch of great saves too. Based on the fact that he just signed an extension this January that takes him through 2023, I’d say he’s going nowhere. Chances of leaving: 1%

Alec Kann

Rob: Poor Alec Kann. The guy has really never put a foot (or hand) wrong with Atlanta United but just can’t get a game. Obviously not having the U.S. Open Cup this season played a big part in that, but it still would’ve been nice to see him get some minutes during a hectic and, well, terrible season. If the club were to choose to move on from Guzan, I think Kann would be perfectly fine as a No. 1 option just like he was in early 2017. If not, how much longer is he willing to be an idle back-up? Chances of leaving: 20%

Joe: All the backup goalkeepers in the world are in the #backupGKs Slack channel bitching about 2020. It’s not been a good year for any of them as games have been so hard to come by, particularly here in America where players like Kann were prohibited from playing in USL. I will say this about Kann: much like a backup quarterback looks increasingly more appealing as they accrue camera time while looking smart holding the clipboard on the sideline, I get the same feeling with goalkeepers. I have doubts that Kann is more-or-less on par with Guzan overall. He’s surely frustrated with the current situation, but it’s also not likel there’s an ideal opportunity waiting for him. The only way I see him leaving (which is possible) is if the club thinks it can cut some costs using Brendan Moore as the backup. Atlanta United 2 goalkeeper Ben Lungaard could factor into this equation as well after coming off a solid season in his first year with the 2s. Chances of leaving: 33%

Brendan Moore

Rob: This is my yearly reminder than Brendan Moore is a person that exists and is apparently on the Atlanta United roster. I have no earthly idea what to expect. Chances of leaving: 12.579%

Joe: Lol yeah we really shouldn’t pretend like we know anything about Moore other than that he’s cheap, which means he probably has a decent chance at sticking around. In general, I just don’t think the goalkeeper group here is something that needs to be disrupted if you can prevent it. Chances of leaving: 10%

Defenders

MLS: FC Cincinnati at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

George Bello

Rob: The shinning light of 2020, Bello established himself as the club’s left back for the foreseeable future. I’ve already seen some clamoring for him to make the jump to Europe, but I think that’s premature for many reasons, including a pandemic-altered market. I think he’s due for another full season as the primary left-sided defender in whatever the new manager’s system will be. Unless a club from Europe comes in with an offer that you can’t refuse, there’s no chance of George leaving. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Joe: He’s an every game starter with upside that is the most cap-friendly contract situation possible. Not going anywhere, thank God. Chances of leaving: 1%

George Campbell

Rob: Atlanta’s other homegrown defender didn’t get much attention after the season was suspended due to the pandemic. Frank de Boer gave him some chances when things were looking bleak depth-wise during the preseason. He’s still very raw and one for the future. I don’t see him factoring in much with the first-team in 2021. Perhaps a lone to Aberdeen or elsewhere might make some sense? If not, he might be heavily featured with the 2’s once the pandemic restrictions of moving teams are hopefully lifted. Chances of leaving: Permanently: 0%, Temporarily: 25%

Joe: Similar to the backups goalkeepers, 2020 conspired against George Campbell in the worst way. He was basically forced into an early homegrown signing (not that he didn’t deserve it or anything, but the team needed warm bodies at the time) and then with the bubble rules, was disallowed form participating with the 2s like it would’ve been planned. It’s tough. I think it’s a massive lost year for Campbell. He needs to play regularly with the 2s this coming season. Chances of leaving: 1%

Edgar Castillo

Rob: With all due respect to the former USMNT legend, he’s 34 years old and starting to get unlucky with injuries. I just can’t see the club being eager to bring him back with a whole offseason to find a better back-up for Bello. Chances of leaving: 99%

Joe: This was such a weird signing. Even when he was able to play, the game looked too fast and physical for him. I’d be shocked if the club doesn’t exercise an option to end the contract after this season. Chances of leaving: 95%

Franco Escobar

SOCCER: NOV 01 MLS - FC Cincinnati at Atlanta United FC Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rob: This is perhaps the most intriguing “will he go or will he stay” case of the entire offseason for Atlanta United. If you’ve read my writing the past three season, you’ll know I’m a Franco Escobar stan. I just love the guy and what he brings. It’s not always pretty and he can be extremely frustrating at times, but he just offers you the flexibility, passion and desire that is hard to find. I think it would be a huge mistake to part ways with Franco unless he really wants to leave the club. He’s stated publicly that he’d be happy playing here for the next 10 years. If it’s financially feasible to keep him, I think he’s a player the next manager can build around. Chances of leaving: 35%

Joe: This is tough, because like you, I’m a huge fan. There are a couple issues surrounding him I’d like to touch on. First, I think it was evident this year that he performed better as a CB than a RB. But if that’s the case, is Franco Escobar the CB you want playing next to Miles Robinson in a back 4? I’m skeptical of those two players’ skill sets helping each other and working cohesively over a long period of time. To me, Escobar’s greatest asset as a CB/RB is his versatility, and having a player like him allows you to change shape during the run of play without a sub, as we saw de Boer do late on in 2019. And it’s for that reason, and his presence in the dressing room that I think Atlanta will want to keep him.

But the second thing with Escobar is his personal situation, his happiness. What happened in 2020 and even parts of 2019 is definitely NOT what he signed up for when he came to play for a Tata Martino-lead team in 2018. That’s not to point fingers for the way things shook out, that’s just the way the cookie crumbled, as Jeff Larentowicz might say. Now, if I’m Escobar and I have opportunities to go back to Argentina and be closer to family as the pandemic sorts itself out, that option is going to look a lot more enticing. In fact, it’s a chance I think I’d take if I were him. I can understand why foreign players at Atlanta United would feel like there’s more certainty outside of the organization based on the upheaval they’ve witnessed this last year. Chances of leaving: 55%

Brooks Lennon

Rob: Not Julian Gressel quietly had a very good first season in Atlanta. Without a Josef Martinez or really any proven goalscorer to link up with, Lennon was still pretty productive from the right flank. It will be interesting to see how he will fit in to a full-strength side. Brooks’ status with the club is entirely linked to the new manager and what style of play he wants to play. If he fits into the new style, he shouldn’t be in any danger of being moved. If he doesn’t, I’m sure there would be teams out there ready to take him. Chances of leaving: 10%

Joe: Lennon is what I refer to as a very “square” player (term derived from Joe Patrick’s Dictionary, Fourth Edition). Playing on the right flank, his runs are very vertical and his delivery is usually pretty simple, be it knocking a cross into the box or playing a central midfielder to feet. But players like this can be effective and credit to Lennon for regularly committing to the unsexy, painful sprints to organize the shape, create space for teammates, etc. All of this to say, Lennon is less likely to produce game-changing moments like Gressel, but he also does his job to a decent standard on a consistent basis. I doubt he’s going anywhere. Chances of leaving: 10%

Fernando Meza

Rob: This is a very tricky one. It must be said that Meza didn’t quite settle into the Atlanta United side as everyone had hoped. There were extenuating circumstances of him not being able to see his family for a long period of time that contributed to his inability to adjust. There have already been rumors linking him with a move back to Mexico. I don’t think the club will stand in his way if he’s ready to move on. I also don’t think they’d be opposed to bringing him back. However, it might make more sense for him to get closer to his family. Chances of leaving: 60%

Joe: I agree with everything you said, but I’m more bearish on him remaining in Atlanta than even the 60% mark you lay out. I just think the back line was mostly disorganized when he played this year, and we even heard Guzan voice those frustrations after games sometimes, notably after the 2-0 loss to Chicago late this season. There is a better version of Fernando Meza than what we saw in 2020, but for him to reach that level, I think it makes sense for all parties to part ways. Chances of leaving: 80%

Miles Robinson

SOCCER: SEP 19 MLS Inter Miami CF at Atlanta United FC Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Rob: It wasn’t a ‘MLS Defender of the Year Runner-up’ caliber of season for Miles in 2020. His form was up and down all season, but it’s hard to fault him too much with trials and tribulations thrown at everyone. There’s always the question of a European transfer for Miles. Like Bello, I’m not sure the time is right for him to make that move. Perhaps in the summer, when some normalcy hopefully returns to the world, might be a different story. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Joe: I couldn’t be more confident that we will see a better version of Miles Robinson in 2021. When the team is parked in a low block like they were under much of Stephen Glass’s tenure, that’s just not playing to Robinson’s strength. And that’s on top of him having his own stop-start season with injuries, inconsistent CBs next to him, and then even catching covid at the end for the cherry on top. He’ll be back and much improved in 2021. Only chance of him leaving is if some Bundesliga team swoops in with a sizable bid, but that’s highly unlikely. Chances of leaving: 5%

Anton Walkes

Rob: This is a difficult one as well. Everyone loves Anton’s versatility and dependability as a depth player. We don’t know what type of contract he’s on and he’s occupying an international slot. In an ideal world you would always love to have a player like Walkes on your roster that can fill in anywhere on the backline. But the questions are, does he want to continue being a role player and do you want to continue paying him whatever you’re paying him to be a role player? If the answers to both of those are an affirmative, then there’s no reason he’s not back. Chances of leaving: 15%

Joe: Someone like Walkes is a perfect MLS player for those reasons you mention. And not only is he versatile, but he plays at a pretty high level (by league standards) when called upon. As an English speaker and a player who’s been here before, he seems very comfortable in his personal life here and don’t see a good reason why he or the club would want to separate now. Chances of leaving: 5%

Laurence Wyke

Rob: What an interesting story Wyke was this season. From ATL UTD 2 all the way to starting several matches for the first team and not looking out of place (save for getting manhandled by Daryl Dike). I’m ready to see where this interesting experiment goes. The only possible detriment to his continued inclusion into the first team is the fact that he requires an international slot. If that doesn’t hurt him, he’s an interesting and versatile depth player. Chances of leaving: 5%

Joe: I gotta be honest, I don’t know if there’s a bigger Laurence Wyke fan out there than you lol. The international slot is a bad break, but the guy must certainly be in green card territory considering he went to college here and has been in the country ever since. Aside from that, he is an interesting development player. He’s a wrecking ball sometimes, but in a good way mostly. And he’s shown enough range in his passing to make you stop and want to see more. But you never know what the team thinks with some of these lower-tiered players. Chances of leaving: 20%