The key to a successful and sustainable MLS franchise is relatively simple...on paper. Take advantage of the various avenues in which players can be acquired, and don’t shirk on any of them.
Homegrowns, the MLS Super Draft, Designated Players, TAM contracts, re-entry, and of course, the rest of the club’s own developmental system, are all vital to navigate MLS’ wildly confusing roster rules and create a team that can be a perennial contender for silverware.
Nick Firmino is the latest success story for Atlanta United’s pipeline after being rewarded for his extreme hard work and dedication. The Five Stripes recently announced the young Brazilian midfielder had been signed to a first team contract through 2026, and if you haven’t checked out his story, be sure to read our exclusive article on him here.
But it isn’t simply hard work and dedication that put Nick Firmino in the eyes of the front office and fans. To realize his story is to know that he has invaluable experience across a variety of leagues here in the United States. While most fans, whose only glimpse of him came from his last minute cameo against NYCFC in Mercedes-Benz Stadium where he scored the game-tying header, wouldn’t realize his prowess as a midfielder, I’m here to tell you Firmino is an absolute gem that the New England Revolution - where he signed his original homegrown contract - missed out on.
This is what dreams are made of pic.twitter.com/DYG9wkWKmW— x - Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) June 29, 2023
From a technical perspective, Firmino is a central midfielder who loves to play with his eyes towards goal. I described him on our most recent Scarves and Spikes episode as an eight with TENdencies (number 10 tendencies...I’ll see myself out) but also someone who can play through the whole spine of the midfield. He’s comfortable on the ball and tends to make the guys around him better. His work rate for Atlanta United 2 in 2023 has been tremendous - 16 goals, six assists, 33 shots on goal, and a metric ton of other statistics prove he’s the real deal. He also took home multiple awards this season, including MLS Next Pro’s Best XI, Mid-season MVP, Player of the Month for June, Player of the Matchday for Matchday 11, and was a finalist for the year’s MVP.
Always a good chat with my guys ❤️ https://t.co/NKOAADa8uS— Nicolas Firmino (@Nick_F_28) September 9, 2023
During the summer when the 2’s met former coach Jack Collison and his new team, Huntsville City FC, that work rate and talent was put into stark perspective as Firmino’s screamer of a goal put him in the sole spot as Atlanta United 2’s single-season goal scoring record holder. Collison then had the following to say about him, “His energy, his work rate, his quality on the ball. A lot of our team came off after the game and they’re saying ‘Look, that Nick Firmino is one hell of a player’ so hopefully he can keep on pushing. And hopefully he can have an effect, fingers crossed on the first team before the end of year because he’s some player.”
That last sentence has now come to fruition, and it’s now Firmino’s opportunity to step into the first team and bring the same dedication he has in USL League One, USL Championship, and MLS Next Pro. With Tristan Muyumba the likely starter at the central midfield spot in 2024, Firmino will have plenty of time to continue to learn from an experienced number 8 while also seeing second half minutes and various starts, especially in other competitions like the U.S. Open Cup.
Firmino also serves as a prime example of what a nose-to-the-grindstone outlook on football can lead to for many of the younger guys working their way through the Atlanta United Academy, and especially other 2’s players. Excuses would be easy to come by for a player in Nick’s shoes; he grew up in the Revolution Academy but made a move to Union Omaha in League One on a free transfer. He was then picked up by Atlanta United 2 after helping Omaha win the league in 2021 - also on a free - so he’s been bounced around despite being a true quality midfielder. But a level head based on his family and faith has kept him trending in the right direction, and it’s all paid off.
The belief is prevalent amongst fans and pundits who are confident Firmino will be a solid, impactful midfielder capable of providing some much needed consistency in a spot that’s been a bit of Atlanta’s Achilles heel (sorry) for years. With more moves sure to come in the offseason, it’s wonderful to see the club again develop a player to the point their talent and hard work lead to the reward of a first team contract instead of bogging down the process by needing to bring in talent from somewhere else. From a roster perspective, it’s a jam-up move that could potentially free tons of cap space, depending on what happens with those aforementioned other contracts.
Ultimately, the onus always falls on the player to prove he’s up to the task, but Firmino has a track record of doing so, even if most Atlanta United fans haven’t realized it yet. The two year contract is a great time frame for the 22 year old to further improve his craft and potentially catch the eyes of European football, where he’s stated he would love to end up. However, even if the Europe route doesn’t pan out, he’s the type of player that will certainly leave Atlanta United better than how he found it. As a fan, what more can you ask for?