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Should Atlanta United worry about the international slots?

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As it stands, the team is over the limit (as far as we know)

MLS: Atlanta United FC-Press Conference Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

“Do not worry about international slots,” a wise man once said.

That’s probably true. At the end of the day, the casual fan need not concern themselves with how Atlanta United goes about complying with any number of MLS’s draconian roster rules and regulations prior to the ball being kicked in early April. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably not one of those aforementioned casual fans, which means you’re wondering how Atlanta United is going to get themselves situated for the season with so many international players arriving recently. I’ve been curious myself.

As it stands, Atlanta United currently has nine international slots according to the league website (more than the standard eight slots after literally paying Nashville for one). While it appears as if the team is compliant right now with only eight of the nine filled, three additional internationals are simply listed unregistered at this point in time — Lisandro Lopez, Franco Ibarra and Erik Lopez. Clearly those players will be a part of Atlanta’s MLS campaign this season. Here’s the full list of internationals as of March 9:

  • Jurgen Damm
  • Ronald Hernandez
  • Fernando Meza
  • Marcelino Moreno
  • Jake Mulraney
  • Mattheus Rossetto
  • Santiago Sosa
  • Anton Walkes
  • Franco Ibarra
  • Erik Lopez
  • Lisandro Lopez

Something needs to happen between now and April to get Atlanta in compliance. Let’s go through that now.

Wait, that list has Fernando Meza on it, so that’s one down

True! Fernando Meza, assuming he’s not recalled at any point during his loan, will not be registered for MLS play by the club. Therefore, he will not occupy an international slot. That brings the number of slots needed down to one, right? For the time being, yes. But remember, Atlanta United is still looking for a center back, ideally one to plug into its starting XI, and the team has seen two international transfers break down in the process. That signals that the club was prepared to ADD one more international to the current group, meaning it’d still need to trim its international count by two. If the club plans to wait to add said center back in the summer, it’d need to part with an international immediately (the incoming signing wouldn’t be able to play a league match until an international slot is cleared), or have an open slot ready to go. So for the sake of this post, let’s assume that two slots need to be cleared.

Green Cards

Everybody loves a green card! We’re all well aware of how Atlanta United has been able to acquire these for players to get them off their international status as it relates to MLS regulations. We’ve written about it in detail, and players such as Tito Villalba, Chris McCann, Franco Escobar, Josef Martinez, Romario Williams and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez have all been recipients in the past.

Minnesota United FC v Atlanta United FC
The most valuable green card in MLS history.
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

This is quite clearly the most amicable and simplest solution to this problem. Get two green cards and you’re good! The problem is that they’re not that easy to acquire and have been even more difficult in recent years due to national politics. Perhaps it’s easier now, but regardless, looking at the list of international players doesn’t offer tons of hope since most have joined the team very recently. Of course, there are a whole host of factors in play, so you can never discount the possibility that these deus-ex-machina-type solutions could appear.

Buy another international slot

They’ve already done it once, can’t they just do it again? If they really wanted to, Atlanta probably could buy an international slot from another team right now. I haven’t personally looked through all the other MLS clubs, but I’m sure there are some vacant slots sitting around. And at this moment, Atlanta probably has the allocation money available since it presumably was willing to spend a good chunk of xAM on David Martinez or Lautaro Giannetti,

But this probably isn’t the wisest move. To spend the Garber Bucks it’d take to acquire a slot would mean you lose the ability to sign the vitally important center back you need. The opportunity cost is simply too great, and the reward is... to keep a depth piece like a Jake Mulraney or a Matheus Rossetto? I hate to say this, but we have to address this issue head on.

Clearing international players from the roster

This is the option you hate to have to turn to as a club, but in a league with a salary cap, an international cap, and all other sorts of parameters, ultimately a player’s production and on-field value must meet or exceed the cost of keeping them on the roster. When looking at the list of internationals above. There’s a clear group of seven players that were all targeted acquisitions that joined either this winter or last summer. That leaves three players who would be vulnerable to being on the wrong end of the numbers game: Anton Walkes Matheus Rossetto and Jake Mulraney.

Walkes is about as safe as you can imagine considering the lack of central defenders in the team and the fact that he proved himself as a capable player both last year and in 2017 (and I wonder if him being here on loan in 2017 could help him in a green card application, but I digress). That leaves Rossetto and Mulraney as two players who clearly COULD be moved if needed.

The nice thing for Atlanta United is that they have an easy option to move these players without needing to part with their long-term value: loans to Aberdeen. The move would theoretically make a ton of sense for Jake Mulraney, who came to Atlanta from the same league. The team could presumably do the same with Rossetto, unless there are other options on the table and the club would prefer to move the player somewhere permanently.

This developing situation is evident of how important it is for clubs like Atlanta to have relationships with clubs like Aberdeen. In theory, players like Mulraney and Rossetto could go on loan to Aberdeen for a year and either prove to the front office they’ll be worthy of a roster spot next season, or boost their values on the wider transfer market. Either way, it’s a win-win-win situation (though I’m sure both Mulraney and Rossetto would prefer to be playing in Atlanta).

So, should we be worried about the international slots? Probably not. Atlanta has options.