The price tag in and of itself raised some eyebrows due to Araujo’s 4g/2a statline at Lille in the 2020-21 season; the optimistic viewpoint was that Atlanta would be able to recoup that $10 million and much more. That’s on top of the fact that it was essentially a reverse of Atlanta United’s MO: seek emerging young talent from the South American ranks, develop them stateside, and sell high on the overseas market. Araujo wasn’t young, relatively speaking (25), plus he’d already made the move from South America to Europe.
“I’m very happy to be in MLS and show MLS who Luiz Araujo is,” he declared in his introductory press conference.
Less than 2 years later, many will agree that he probably should have shown a little more. The 27-year-old is headed back to his native Brazil and mega club Flamengo, a disappointing spell in North America in the rearview mirror. And those looking for a sendoff during Wednesday’s home match against NYCFC will be disappointed:
You may have already assumed, but I can confirm Luiz Araujo has played his last game with Atlanta United. He was originally set to be with the team through the June 24 game against RBNY.— J. Sam Jones (@J_SamJones) June 18, 2023
One probably shouldn’t be surprised by that development considering that Araujo had last week removed references to Atlanta United from his Instagram account in favor of Flamengo. But it’s a rather abrupt end to an MLS career that displayed initial promise: Araujo played in 15 matches in 2021 (starting 13), debuting on August 18 against Toronto FC.
It wasn’t until his 5th match — September 15 against FC Cincinnati — that he opened his account in brilliant fashion:
He’d total 4 goals and 4 assists down the stretch, and it looked as if Atlanta United had a star on its hands.
Then came 2022, and it appeared that Araujo would pick up where he left off, scoring in Atlanta’s season opener against Sporting Kansas City. But it’d be the last we saw of him until April 16 as — in a stroke of foreshadowing — he came off injured shortly before the half-hour mark due to a hamstring. After that, he wasn’t particularly bad! He matched his 4-goal tally from the season prior on June 25 against Toronto FC, and tacked on 6 assists across all competitions.
But gradually, the flaws that shaped the latter half of his tenure with Atlanta United began to appear: his off-target shooting, his frustrating decision making, and his temperamental nature, for lack of a better term. And undoubtedly, the former fed into the latter, which, again undoubtedly, irked fans.
Which brings us to 2023. Sure, he had a stretch where he showed glimpses of his 2021 edition, but eventually it turned into the same old song. Call it the yips, lack of focus, or an inability to adjust to a new country and league, but Araujo never really connected the dots.
Now, it’s not that Araujo was a bad player for Atlanta United. It’s just that there hasn’t been a strong-enough ROI from someone who was among the league’s 10 highest players heading into 2023. Whether or not it’s a case of the front office grossly overpaying him is a different topic, but the truth is that his level of play wasn’t commensurate with his salary, eventually leading Atlanta to turn the page.
It’s not the ending we’d have hoped for, but the right move for both parties. Araujo, still with his prime years ahead of him, can return home to Brazil and hopefully blossom into a key player for Flamengo. Atlanta, while making a minimal profit at best and breaking even at worst, have freed up a designated player slot, a major piece of the puzzle for a critical first summer transfer window under the guidance of Garth Lagerwey. (No. 6, anyone?)
In short, all the best to Luiz Araujo with Flamengo. Here’s hoping his time in MLS has been a learning experience and that his best football is ahead of him.