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Atlanta United summer transfer window guide

All you need to know about Atlanta United ahead of the secondary transfer window

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MLS: Minnesota United FC at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

July 5th, the start of Major League Soccer’s secondary transfer window, marks an important date for the trajectory of the remainder of Atlanta United’s 2023 season. The summer transfer window opens the door for new faces to join the club, for current players to move on and a whole lot of this guy.

Let’s look at some information to know for Atlanta United ahead of the summer window.

Confirmed outgoing players:

  • Luiz Araújo - Designated Player, International

The Brazilian has departed to Flamengo on a permanent transfer for about $10 million.

Base Salary: $3,600,000

Budget Charge: $651,250

  • Marcelino Moreno (Loan buy clause activated) - Senior, TAM

Coritiba purchased the Argentine’s contractual rights on Jun. 20 for $1.5 million. Although his $628,333 salary was already off the books, his approximate transfer fee in the ballpark of $7 million was still counting toward his budget charge. His transfer now frees up some of that money. In addition, it’s been reported that Atlanta United retains a sell-on percentage on the 28-year-old midfielder.

Base Salary: $628,333

Budget Charge: Unknown as the exact transfer fee is unknown.

Potentially outgoing players:

  • Thiago Almada - Young Designated Player, International

One of the best players in MLS at the moment for his ability on the ball, pinpoint passing and world-class shots from distance. There have already been rumors linking him to Napoli and AC Milan with other unnamed European clubs showing interest.

Base Salary: $2,200,000

Budget Charge: $200,000

  • Caleb Wiley - Supplemental 25-28, Homegrown

No rumors have surfaced yet, but don’t be surprised if Europe starts taking an interest in the 18-year-old. The Atlanta native has 3 goals and 2 assists in 12 appearances for the Five Stripes and has solidified his spot as the first-choice left winger. Wiley’s participation in the FIFA U-20 World Cup as a regular starter for the United States certainly did not go unnoticed either.

Base Salary: $85,444

Budget Charge: $0

Confirmed incoming players:

  • Edwin Mosquera (return from loan) - Senior, U22 Initiative, International

Defensa y Justicia announced on Jun. 9 that Mosquera’s contract was mutually terminated after six appearances in which he failed to find the net for the Argentine club.

He will now automatically return to Atlanta United when the summer transfer window opens and force the MLS club to send out at least one of its U22 players to stay roster compliant.

Base salary: $375,000

Budget charge: $200,000

Potentially incoming players:

None

Open roster slots:

  • 1 Designated Player (potentially another if Almada leaves)
  • 2 Senior Roster
  • 1 Supplemental 21-24 (Senior Minimum Salary Players, Homegrowns or Generation Adidas; minimum base salary of $85,444)
  • 1 Supplemental 25-28 (Reserve Minimum Salary Players; minimum base salary of $67,360)

Atlanta United’s depth chart as of Jun. 26, 2023

*Edwin Mosquera will not be available to play until the transfer window opens on July 5th. Atlanta United will also need to figure out its U22 situation before then. More on that below.

What are Atlanta United’s biggest needs?

Center Midfielder

Though there might be four different players on the club’s roster that can play as a box-to-box midfielder, none of them have proven to be truly starting quality for MLS. Let’s look at why.

Looking at some passing numbers, Atlanta United’s Thiago Almada is second in MLS in expected assists (6), fourth in progressive passes (150), seventh in passes into the final third (105), second in passes into the box (43) and leads the league in key passes (50). These stats tell us that Almada is not only a superb passer, but that he is putting the ball into dangerous areas from which the team is likely to score. Being near the top of the list in progressive passes demonstrates his willingness to attack and shows that he is a major contributor in getting the ball from back to front and getting attacks going quickly.

The Argentine is without question the club’s best passer, but where do his midfield teammates rank?

Matheus Rossetto has been Atlanta’s typical first-choice center midfielder when available. The Brazilian ranks 151st in expected assists (1.1), 129th in progressive passes (55), 100th in passes into the final third (50), 226th in passes into the box (6) and 77th in key passes (17). The one area where Rossetto places highest is for pass completion percentage where he ranks 7th (90.3) due to a high volume of his passes which are safer short passes (generally backward or lateral passes).

Then you have Amar Sejdic whose numbers don’t look good either. So far this season he ranks 417th in expected assists (0.2), 324th in progressive passes (24), 231st in passes into the final third (28), 328th in passes into the box (3) and 390th in key passes (3). Although Sejdic has only played 691 minutes in 2023, his per 90 stats don’t show much improvement.

Compare these numbers with some of the other box-to-box midfielders around the league such as Riqui Puig, Mateusz Klich, Cristian Cásseres Jr or Marky Delgado and you start to understand why Atlanta’s midfield seems so mediocre. And we haven’t even gotten into the defending.

To put it plainly, if Atlanta United doesn’t reinforce this area soon - preferably with a DP number 8 that can put up better numbers - it won’t see much improvement in the second half of the season.

Right Winger

With Araújo headed back to his native Brazil, the search is on for Atlanta United’s next starting right winger. At the moment, the team has a few options to fill in the gap while a new signing is brought in. One of those is Derrick Etienne Jr who has played on the right a couple of times for the Five Stripes. The other would be to push Brooks Lennon up to right wing - his natural position from his Real Salt Lake days - and deploy Ronald Hernández at right back.

What Atlanta United could be looking for in its next winger depends on the role Gonzalo Pineda wants on the right side: does he want another inverted right winger with tons of on-the-ball ability and the ability to cut inside and take shots or does he want a support winger who excels at crossing the ball into the box to find aerial threats like Giorgos Giakoumakis?

Either way, Atlanta United is going to want a winger with pace that can associate with Lennon on the right side and create danger in conjunction with the team’s other attacking pieces.

If Atlanta United uses Araújo’s DP slot on a center midfielder, then the right winger signing will likely come on a TAM deal.

Attacking Midfielder

Hey, remember those times when Thiago Almada was out injured or on international duty and the team had to play with Amar Sejdic as an attacking midfielder? Well, one of those times was in Columbus and we all know how that went. Now imagine what’ll happen when Almada inevitably leaves for Europe. Not a fun thought, huh?

Right now it’s unclear exactly how long Atlanta United will be able to hold onto its star, but what is clear is how shallow the squad is in truly natural attacking midfielders. By shallow I mean Almada, Tyler Wolff and... that’s it. Machop Chol has played in the role before but it’s by no means his best position. Besides, if you know your main attacking midfielder is saying goodbye, you probably want to start getting his replacement situated sooner rather than later.

Almada is classified as a “Young DP,” which means that filling his DP slot will have certain ramifications on other areas of the roster - namely the U22 players. Speaking of U22 players...

Some other things to think about

The U22 dilemma

With Mosquera returning early from his loan spell in Argentina, the club will have four U22 Initiative players on the roster. Those players are Franco Ibarra, Erik Lopez, Edwin Mosquera and Santiago Sosa. According to MLS roster rules, a team can only have a maximum of three U22 players.

So already the club needs to arrange a permanent transfer or a loan for one of the aforementioned players before Mosquera returns in order to stay roster compliant. There is an option to remove the U22 label from a player, but it would result in spending sizeable amounts of TAM to balance out their budget charges.

But that’s not the end of the issue. If Almada leaves in the summer, the team will have an additional DP slot open with a few twists. Since Almada is considered a “Young DP,” whoever Atlanta United signs as a replacement will impact the number of U22 slots the club can have.

Here are the options that Atlanta United has when it comes to filling Almada’s Young DP spot:

  1. Sign a senior DP (age 24 or older) and lose two U22 slots, leaving Atlanta with a total of one.
  2. Sign a senior DP that earns less than the maximum TAM amount ($1,651,250) and keep all three U22 slots
  3. Sign a Young DP replacement (age 23 or younger) and keep all three U22 slots
  4. Leave the third DP slot empty and keep all three U-22 slots

Atlanta United President and CEO Garth Lagerwey’s vision for DP recruitment is one that focuses on players between the ages of 24 and 29, what he calls “prime age players,” according to The Athletic. This model is evident at his previous club, Seattle Sounders, where all three DPs are senior DPs.

This conundrum with the club’s U22 players presents an obstacle to Lagerwey’s plan for the DP slots should Almada leave.

It’s hard to imagine that Lagerwey will simply leave a vacant DP slot especially when the club is preparing for its participation in Leagues Cup before wrapping up the MLS regular season. He’ll have to make the tough choice of either deviating from his typical DP plan or jumping through some hoops to cut the roster down to just one U22 player.

Atlanta United’s goalkeeping future

Yeah, it’s time to talk about the Guzan-sized elephant in the room.

Despite bouncing back like a champ from an ACL tear and a poor performance against New England Revolution, Brad Guzan can only stick around for so long.

Even with his magnificent showings at LAFC and against DC United, Guzan’s save percentage (60.4%) is the league’s worst and his post-shot xg per shot on target (0.32) is the sixth-highest in MLS this season for a goalkeeper who has faced a pretty average amount of shots on target.

The experienced ex-USMNT goalkeeper turns 39 in September and is the third-oldest player in the league behind Kei Kamara (eight days older) and Giorgio Chiellini (26 days older). It’s a natural part of aging that reaction speed and agility decrease and that’s been noticeable in Guzan to some extent. It also doesn’t help that he’s returning from such a long-term injury that some might consider career-ending at his age.

Full credit to Guzan for his work getting back on the field and for being able to make the 30 saves that he has this season, but it may be time for Atlanta United to find its next starting goalkeeper.

Reports coming out of Israel seem to indicate that 30-year-old Josh Cohen will not renew his contract with Maccabi Haifa, opening the door for a free transfer in the summer. In 18 appearances for The Greens last season Cohen held 7 clean sheets. He was recently called up by the US Men’s National Team for its CONCACAF Nations League semifinal match against Mexico.

Atlanta United has been linked to Cohen in the past, so the Five Stripes might decide to make a concrete move for the California native this summer. At his age and with his experience, he could certainly be called upon to stand between the posts for at least the next five years.

The second half of the season starts now

From a home and away match against Supporters’ Shield-leading FC Cincinnati to hosting FC Barcelona Messi and friends, Atlanta United has 14 regular-season matches remaining with half being against teams above it in the standings.

With 42 possible points left to add to its total of 29, Atlanta United just needs to finish 9th. It is currently 6th. A bit of quick math from 9th place finishers from the past four seasons (not including 2020 because that was a weird year) reveals that 44 points should be enough to land the playoff wildcard spot. Multiplying Atlanta’s current points per game (1.45) by the 14 matches remaining suggests that the Five Stripes are on track to earn about 20 more points this season, which would put its final total at 49 points.

Then there’s the new League’s Cup tournament at the end of July with three Concacaf Champions League Cup qualification spots up for grabs. Atlanta United will at least get two group-stage matches away to Inter Miami and hosting Cruz Azul.

Atlanta United needs to make the right moves in this window to fill some of the holes in the current roster and compete with some of the more difficult teams it will have to face. We’ve already heard from Lagerwey that “one to three” signings will be made in the summer while Gonzalo Pineda left it more open saying there would be “more than one signing.”

However many signings this club decides to make over the summer, it needs to make them count as fans will undoubtedly want to see an impact on the field sooner rather than later.