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Atlanta United 2021 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 FC at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Atlanta United offseason time once again. The inevitable roster transition is only a matter of days from beginning. A topsy-turvy 2021 season has everyone wondering what personnel changes are coming to get the Five Stripes closer to the top of MLS. 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

Brad Guzan

Rob: If you had asked me this question four months ago my response would likely have been completely different. However, Guzan’s form has improved tremendously since Gabriel Heinze’s departure. While it’s still true that the club probably shouldn’t be paying as much as they do for a starting goalkeeper, Guzan has proved himself once again as a vital part of the squad both on and off the field. I don’t see him leaving this offseason. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Joe: You’re definitely right to point to Guzan’s improved performance, and overall, considering his wages and his leadership within the dressing room (which is real, in my opinion), it’s very hard to see him going anywhere.

I want to say one thing as it relates to judging goalkeepers: Since it’s such a specialty position that is so dissimilar to every other position, it’s such a difficult position to evaluate. Even massive clubs get goalkeeper signings completely wrong from time-to-time. So, as more casual observers, it feels like basing our opinions off of certain metrics (spanning from rudimentary save percentage to high-minded Goals Added/G+) is the right thing to do. But I think these stats still don’t give us the full picture at this position. As a goalkeeper, you are so reliant on your teammates to prevent certain shots from certain areas, and if the defense is a disorganized chaos, it can lead to embarrassing moments for the goalkeeper. We saw Guzan look silly several times in 2020 because of this, and it led to him being ranked 43rd in G+. His shot stopping that year was a -2.48. This year, behind a more organized and consistent team? 6th overall in G+ and 6th in shot stopping with 4.28 goals added. I think his true ability as a goalkeeper is probably somewhere in the middle of this range, but the intangibles I discussed earlier solidify his position in the team. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Alec Kann

Rob: This is a tough one. I won’t claim to be privy of every back-up keeper in the league but I’d wager that Kann is firmly in the Top 5. Yes, he’s a hometown guy. But, you have to wonder when he’ll want his chance at a full-time starting job. With yet another expansion team entering the league and the player pool continuing to thin, sooner or later a team is going to want him as their No. 1 choice. This offseason could finally be his chance. Chances of leaving: 30%

Joe: It’s crazy how much he impresses every time we see him. And in recent years with Guzan being in the USMNT fold as a reserve/veteran, he’s been needed. At 31 years old though, it seems like now or never to become a starter in the league. Having said that, Guzan came to Atlanta at the age of 32, so it’s not impossible that Kann is the Guzan successor. Kann has dealt with some injuries that could be a concern though, and for him it’s really a bummer that Guzan has two more years on his deal instead of one. Chances of leaving: 20%

Ben Lundgaard

Rob: Seems like a sure bet to come back as an insurance policy. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Joe: I think he could definitely leave, but it’s almost impossible for us to tell. All comes down to how the club have scouted him internally and what they think about his potential. He signed just ahead of the 2021 season, but only on a one-year deal with options. So if the club see some other USL/MLS young goalkeeper they like, they could make that sort of swap relatively easily. I’d say it’s a coin toss. Chances of leaving: 49%

*BONUS* Rocco Rios Novo

Rob: While technically not a first team player, I added Rocco to this debate because he captured the imagination of every Atlanta fan early in the season. His loan will expire and he’ll return to Lanus unless something changes. While his arrival seemed strongly linked to Gabriel Heinze’s style of play, his rumored loan came before Heinze’s name was ever floated. It’s no secret that Guzan is approaching the final stretch of his career and the club need a long term plan. If the financials can be worked out, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rios Novo brought back on a permanent basis and given the reins for the 2’s next season for another year of development. Will he be back? Yes.

Joe: They should definitely try to get him back, and I could see him being the player who takes Lungaard’s place as the “MLS roster goalkeeper who only ever plays with the 2s” (which is funny considering he played first team football last year). His shot stopping and ability with the ball seem real, but his weakness is obviously his size and physical presence inside the box. He’s basically the anti-Guzan. But most importantly, he’s a young talented keeper who is not an international. With a great mustache. Will he be back? Yes.

Defenders

Mikey Ambrose

Rob: As much as we love our favorite Boy Scout, he played a total of 63(!) minutes this season. It’s hard to imagine him being brought back if the club is serious about improving its depth. Chances of leaving: 95%

Joe: I hate it for him, but the level is just not the same as it was circa 2018 when he was a serviceable depth option. Those 63 minutes were pretty brutal. Chances of leaving: 95%

Josh Bauer

Rob: He is definitely a player that exists. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Joe: Lol. Yeah he’s a developmental player for sure, and I think he improved this year with the 2s. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

George Bello

Rob: The rumors are swirling and honestly the timing feels very good for a move to Europe for George. He had a fine season but I’m just not sure he fits what Atlanta United truly needs style wise. I believe a transfer to a good situation would be a mutually beneficial scenario at this point. Chances of leaving: 65%

Joe: Yep, and I’d add that his contract is likely running down. This hasn’t really been discussed much, but having signed a homegrown deal starting Jan 1. 2018, he’s surely got one year left on that maximum. Could even be in compensation territory (but probably not). Atlanta has a fine replacement in tow in Andrew Gutman. Overall this will be a smooth transition and kudos to Carlos Bocanegra for preparing this. Chances of leaving: 80%

George Campbell

Rob: I don’t think it will be too long before Campbell is in the same situation as Bello and Robinson with interest from Europe coming in hot. However, I think he needs at least another season to transition into a consistent minutes-getter for the first team. He’s shown he has the potential and if there are some departures it could be his time to shine. Chances of leaving: 5%

Joe: Agree, but there’s obviously no rush on him right now. He’s good enough to step in and be a really good CB. No major injury history, fit, humble, athletic, technical... has all the qualities of a really good player both now and down the line. A couple years ago, I’d have described him as “gangly,” but he’s really developed physically and can go toe-to-toe with MLS forwards. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Alex De John

Rob: I honestly have no idea. Seems like he could be a roster casualty to improve depth but also could stick around as one of the final names on the roster. Chances of leaving: 50%

Joe: Thank you for your service Alex. Playing through a broken elbow was epic and will not be forgotten. But I think Atlanta would rather have the open roster slot for flexibility. (He is on a one-year contract with an option). Chances of leaving: 85%

Franco Escobar

Rob: Surprise! He’s still an Atlanta United player and his loan will be up some time this offseason. While it’s fun to dream about him making a comeback, I just can’t see it. It feels like bridges have been burned with no chance of repair. He’ll either be loaned out again or let go depending on his contract situation. Chances of leaving: 95%

Joe: Oh crap! But yeah, I know fans kind of dream of him being back, but it’s over. I don’t know exactly how it will happen, but they’ll agree to something. Chances of leaving: 99%

Alan Franco

Rob: After a slow start he’s turned into a rock for the club. He seems like he’ll be here for the long haul. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Joe: It’s crazy how true the whole concept of the “adjustment period” really is. Franco a textbook case and he’ll continue to be a standout MLS center back next season. If he continues on this trajectory he could be one of the rare players that makes the kind of move he did (given his age) who then later receives interest from Europe. But if not, I’m sure Atlanta will be happy to keep him around for the foreseeable future. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Ronald Hernandez

Rob: I’d really like to see him get more chances in 2022. He showed glimpses of what he can do and seems to fit Atlanta’s style of play pretty well. I think it’s a safe bet he’ll at least be a depth player next season, if not more. Chances of leaving: 5%

Joe: Hernandez is on loan, but it certainly seems like a situation where all parties — Hernandez, Atlanta and Aberdeen (hell, and Venezuela for that matter) — will want to keep him in Atlanta. I’m with you, I think there’s a lot more to come from him. It’s weir how he didn’t get much playing time under wither Pineda nor Heinze, who played him even less! Chances of leaving: 10%

Brooks Lennon

Rob: First and foremost let me state that I really like Brooks Lennon as a player. He works extremely hard and has some good qualities. With that said, there’s this gnawing feeling in the back of my mind that his style of play just doesn’t fit what Atlanta United needs in a fullback or wingback. He’s a more traditional type of player who serves in a ball better suited for a typical tall center forward. This is probably why he did so well in 2020 when the team featured the likes of Adam Jahn. He just doesn’t seem to be on the same page as the rest of our attackers and I’m not sure that’s going to change. If there’s a chance to move him for assets in the offseason I would explore that avenue without much hesitation. Chances of leaving: 20%

Joe: Huh, I’d never thought about the target striker thing but it makes a lot of sense. I also like Lennon mainly because he’s so consistent and never seems to make egregious mistakes. I can’t help but think that other teams would be very interested in acquiring Lennon given his affordable contract, and if that’s the case, Atlanta might be intrigued at the possibility of freeing up some “liquidity” that will allow them some more flexibility in the market. Basically, I don’t think Atlanta will look to get rid, but I think they’d listen to offers. Chances of leaving: 20%

Efrain Morales

Rob: Still just 17 and with only 10 professional appearances under his belt, 2022 seems like the season for him to finally get some consistent minutes with the 2’s. He should be here for a while. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Joe: Earlier, I said George Campbell looked “gangly” to me a couple years ago. That’s how Morales looks now when I’ve seen him. Which is totally normal and part of the development process. Just hope he continues to earn minutes with the 2s. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Miles Robinson

Rob: As much as I love Miles and know how important he is to Atlanta United, it’s time for him to get his move to Europe and test himself at a higher level. He’s basically done all there is to do in MLS for a defender. The question now is will any club out there pony up the cash Atlanta is looking for? I feel like a deal inevitably gets done. Chances of leaving: 50%

Joe: This one is so tough. I’m starting to wonder if the contract Robinson signed at the end of the 2018 season (the rare in-season contract extension) has priced him out of some European moves. It’s worth noting that the pay in MLS for DPs and high-TAM players like Robinson is pretty competitive globally. So while a Bundesliga move has been one that many fans have proposed, I bet you many Bundesliga teams would not be able/willing to increase his current wages. To reach that level, you’d need to get interest from teams in European competitions or the Premier League, and it seems like that is yet to arrive. Recent reporting has moved my percentage here lower, but given that his contract will have two years on it after this season, it still seems like the perfect time. Chances of leaving: 60%

Anton Walkes

Rob: Every club in MLS would love to have a player like Anton Walkes. The guy just shows up and does his job at an extremely high level. It’s hard to see Atlanta United willing to let him leave any time soon just because he’s such a valuable commodity that fills so many needs and roles. Chances of leaving: 5%

Joe: I could basically repeat here what I said for Lennon. Consistent performer on an affordable contract who Atlanta won’t be looking to move but would probably listen to offers, especially if it looks like Robinson might be staying. Chances of leaving: 20%

Bryce Washington

Rob: He just got here. Hopefully we see him progress in 2022. Chances of leaving: Less than 1%

Joe: Yep. And it’s nice that Jack Collison has a solid core of young center backs to work with in his 2s side next season. Bauer - Morales - Washington (who can play CB/RCB/RB) Chances of leaving: Less than 1%