Now that Rob and Joe have completed their series on the players that could move on or stay for next season, it’s time to look at who could come in to replace the potential outgoing players. Just like the “ins and outs” series, this one will be split into three parts for each section of the squad. Today, we’ll be going over some candidates to strengthen the oh-so-problematic backline that has caused fans much anxiety this season.
Sean Johnson - USA, age 33
I don’t think I really need to go in-depth as to why Johnson would be a good signing, but I’ll quickly go over some of the big points. He’s started consistently for NYCFC this season and has managed 14 shutouts. He helped the pigeons win MLS Cup last year and has caps with the USMNT to boot. He’s tall, his reflexes are good, and he’s arguably the second-best goalkeeper in MLS right now behind Andre Blake.
But why am I naming him when NYCFC surely won’t let him go? Well, Johnson is on the list of players who will be eligible for free agency at the end of the 2022 season. While he might not necessarily be unhappy at NYCFC, maybe he wants a change of scenery - a new adventure with a different club. What better place to play out the latter part of your career than right back at home in a stadium that packs out week in, week out? Atlanta definitely has the resources to make it happen, it’s just a matter of convincing him.
Gastón Gómez - Argentina, age 26
Looking for a goalkeeper that is large, quick off his line AND has great reaction speed? Gómez is your man. He’d been starting consistently for Racing Club until early August, making 12 appearances and recording 6 clean sheets. He then lost his starting spot and injured his leg soon after, effectively relegating him to a third-string goalkeeper on his return. Perhaps the allure of some playing time in a new, competitive league could appeal to him. His relatively young age means he’ll last quite a bit, so it’s a transfer with good value for the club.
Finn Dahmen - Germany, age 24
Currently riding the bench at FSV Mainz 05, this young keeper could be open to a move if guaranteed a starting role. He’s only played five games at the first-division level, but they’ve been against some of the toughest teams in Bundesliga including Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and VfL Wolfsburg. When he played for Mainz’s second team, he played 11 games and snagged 4 clean sheets. Dahmen also has eight caps for Germany’s U21 squad, with which he competed in the UEFA U-21 Championship, making six appearances and keeping three clean sheets.
Because of his lack of playing time, his market value has gone down, so getting him could be a much better deal than it looks on paper. Besides, there’s nothing better for a player who's stuck in a rut than a fresh start and some guaranteed minutes.
Diego Reyes – Mexico, age 30
The main reason that I’m including him here is that Atlanta United has already been loosely linked to him now that he’s making his way out of Tigres. The 30-year-old defender has 65 appearances with the Mexican National Team and 78 appearances with the Liga MX side between 2019 and now. A big advantage of bringing him to Atlanta would be the improvement in communication at the back as he’ll be playing alongside his former Tigres teammate Juanjo Purata. His impressive 6’4 height would also create yet another threat in the air on set plays and help the Five Stripes win more aerial duels. His experience with Mexico’s senior team - which includes 28 friendlies, 15 World Cup qualifiers, 10 Gold Cup appearances, 6 Copa America appearances, 4 Confederations Cup appearances, and one World Cup appearance in 2014 - and some of the top clubs in Liga MX will surely be an important asset to solidify Atlanta’s defense.
Federico Gatti – Italy, age 24
Toronto got some pretty darn good Italians, so maybe we should, too! Gatti is a bastion in the defense. Coming in at 6’3, he’s got some good height on him, which will help Atlanta dominate in the air. He’s also physically strong and puts in some very good tackles to cleanly win back possession. His pace and passing would also come in handy for a team that likes to play out from the back. Last year, he was at Serie B Frosinone Calcio and helped the team hold 12 clean sheets. This year, he’s riding the bench at Juventus, so maybe a loan move to MLS would help him get some playing time in a competitive league. He’s already been called up to Italy’s National Team during the summer, so he’ll be extra motivated to find playing time and earn more caps for the Azzurri.
Justen Glad - USA, age 25
Here’s a pickup that won’t take up an international slot and would be pretty easy for Atlanta to pull off given their resources. Glad has had 25 appearances for Real Salt Lake this season and has helped them keep nine clean sheets. Coming in at 6’0, he’s the shortest player on this list, but he still manages to get in the air pretty well and has contributed three goals as a result. He’s missed eight games this season due to injuries and RSL wasn’t able to win a single one of those games. Statistically, the team defends better with Glad, averaging 2.4 goals conceded without him compared to 0.9 goals conceded with him.
Fortunately, the timing is right for this kind of deal to happen as his contract with RSL runs out at the end of the season with an option for another year. Perhaps if a certain team in need of help in their backline comes knocking with enough money... well... all I’m saying is Atlanta might be ‘glad’ to have him on the team. Bad joke? Yeah, let’s move on.
Franco Escobar - Argentina, age 27
Does that name sound familiar? It should. Escobar was part of the 2018 Atlanta squad that won MLS Cup, but nostalgia isn’t the only reason I have him here. He’s going to be eligible for free agency this off-season, so Atlanta could get him back. He’s still a quality right back and has played in 18 games for LAFC this season. If the Five Stripes do decide to move on from Ronald Hernandez or Brooks Lennon, Escobar could be a solid acquisition to fill in the gap. We’ve already seen him do well in Atlanta and he’s helped LAFC win the Supporter’s Shield. Plus, maybe getting La Banda back together can lift Josef’s spirits and help him get back in form. Wishful thinking? Probably, but it’d at least be nice to see a familiar face from a memorable time in the club’s history.
Anton Tinnerholm - Sweden, age 31
Here’s another MLS player that’s going into free agency at the season’s end. Tinnerholm arrived at NYCFC in 2018 when Patrick Viera was still the head coach. Tinnerholm has made 132 appearances for the pigeons across his four years with the team, scoring 9 goals and bagging 23 assists. He’s also made nine appearances for the Swedish national team, mostly playing in qualifiers and friendlies. Even though he’s getting up there in age, he’s still a reliable wingback that attacks space well and makes good forward runs. If Atlanta moves quickly, this could be a very worthwhile pickup for them.
Byron Castillo - Ecuador, age 23
He’s quick, he’s effective and he’s versatile. Castillo is the ideal right back for Atlanta United. He recently moved to Léon where he has one goal and two assists in 16 appearances for the Mexican giants. He also has 12 caps for Ecuador’s National Team and helped them qualify for the upcoming World Cup in Qatar. His best qualities are his pace and his defensive acumen. He’s able to close down opposing wingers, recover the ball and move it upfield quickly. If Gonzalo Pineda wants to institute a high-pressing, fast build-up kind of system, then Castillo could be a key piece to making that a reality.