Atlanta United today announced it has sent three players on season-long loans to Atlanta United 2, with forward Erik Centeno, goalkeeper Justin Garces and defender Efrain Morales spending the 2023 season with the club’s MLS NEXT Pro affiliate.
Background on the players from the press release:
Atlanta United selected Centeno in the first round of the 2022 MLS SuperDraft. The Generation Adidas selection spent last season on loan with ATL UTD 2 where he made 30 total appearances. The Stockton, California native made 16 starts and recorded three assists in his first professional season. He was named the Conference Freshman of the Year at the University of the Pacific in 2021 before turning professional.
Garces, 22, made 13 appearances with ATL UTD 2 last season. His first start of last season came on March 16 against New York Red Bulls II where he made seven saves. He finished the season playing a total of 1,170 minutes and 65 saves. The Miami, Florida native had an outstanding collegiate career as a four-year starter at UCLA, playing in 57 games. He recorded 21 wins and registered seven clean sheets.
Morales has been with Atlanta United since the team’s inaugural Academy U-12 team. He signed a Homegrown contract effective Jan. 1, 2021. He earned his most consistent playing time with ATL UTD 2 last season, making 24 appearances. The Decatur, Georgia native earned 17 starts and finished last season playing 1,513 total minutes. Morales has earned international call-ups to Bolivia’s youth national teams, including most recently featuring in the South American U-20 Championship held in Colombia.
These moves are fully expected as all three players are in need of more regular experience before being options to contribute at the MLS level. May the most notable part of the announcement is who was not included — in particular, Erik Lopez, one of Atlanta United’s U-22 players who is back from his year long loan spell at Banfield. He will likely still be primarily a 2s player this season, but at this point in time the club might as well keep him available to play in MLS if he is needed.