It was a dark, cloudy morning at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground where the Five Stripes continued preparations for the remainder of the MLS regular season starting with an Aug. 20 encounter with Seattle Sounders in Lumen Field.
After a hospitalization for kidney stones following Atlanta’s elimination from Leagues Cup at the hands of Cruz Azul, Ozzie Alonso was back in training looking bright and healthy.
Notable absences from training included Thiago Almada, Giorgos Giakoumakis and Caleb Wiley who were all given time off. Machop Chol was also absent recovering from an ankle injury.
There was a new face at the training ground: Xande Silva, one of the three new signings announced earlier this week. The 26-year-old Portuguese attacker beamed with excitement as he spoke to media about joining Atlanta United.
“It’s a very famous team,” Silva said when asked what he knew about the team before signing, “Everyone in Europe knows Atlanta United and I’m very glad to be here. As I said, I’m here to work and help my teammates and the club.”
Silva acknowledged Lionel Messi’s arrival to MLS but said it wasn’t a factor in his decision to sign for Atlanta.
In the press release announcing Silva’s signing, Vice President and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra described the former West Ham United and Nottingham Forest attacker as a player that can play “anywhere across the front three.” When asked which position he prefers to play, he said left wing but that he can also play as a striker or a number 10. In terms of his playing style, he likes to enjoy himself and be free.
“I’m a very fast player. Good technically, 1v1. As I said, I like to work to improve myself and help the team,” Silva said.
Bocanegra also came out to speak to media following the conclusion of the MLS secondary transfer window.
“Fortunately, we were able to execute on our plan and get the pieces in and so you see with the two wingers, another striker up top and a midfielder in Tristan [Muyumba],” Bocanegra said, “We’re able to now have a group that we feel we have a good balance, we have good competition at the positions around the field and really help stabilize for the back half of the year and beyond.”
Bocanegra also acknowledged that outgoing players early in the window such as Luiz Araujo, Andrew Gutman and Franco Ibarra created a challenge for Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda due to the team not having a “full complement of players.” Now, he said he feels good about how the roster is constructed moving forward.
Atlanta United announced two wingers on deadline day: Silva and 28-year-old Georgian international Saba Lobjanidze who was signed to a DP contract that can be bought down later. Bocanegra said that the plan is for both to be starters and impact players. He expects visas for both and Jamal Thiaré to be done in about two weeks.
From Georgia to Georgia ✈️— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) August 2, 2023
Welcome to Atlanta, Saba ✍️
Bocanegra took a moment to praise Silva’s resilience through the many moves he’s had in his career and a stomach ailment that sidelined him for a long time.
“He’s got a little chip on his shoulder and that I think he wants to prove something, so that’s good,” Bocanegra said.
Although the club added three attacking players, there was still the team’s defensive woes to address. The Five Stripes has conceded the second-most goals in MLS (39) this season just behind Charlotte FC (40) and conceded five goals in its two Leagues Cup appearances. Bocanegra explained that signing Tristan Muyumba earlier in the window was meant to address some of the team’s defensive problems, so bringing the three attackers brought balance to the squad.
“Although he [Muyumba] did quite well getting in the opposition’s box last game, that’s not necessarily his number one strength: to help solidify the middle ball-winning,” Bocanegra said, “I think you saw a few of his plays that he’s breaking on tackles and stuff.”
The club signed a whopping three of four players from France’s Ligue 2 over the summer, leading many to speculate that the club had a new model of player recruitment geared toward bringing in players from there. Bocanegra said it was just a coincidence that three players from France’s second division were signed and that many different leagues and players were looked at.
According to Bocanegra, the scouting process for this window was not very different from previous windows, but the club did enlist the help of data analytics partners SRC FTBL and StatsBomb which club President and CEO Garth Lagerwey said would assist in player acquisition and identification.
Bocanegra also said the club was still having conversations with Miles Robinson and that his contract renewal option remained on the table.
“We’re having great conversations. He’s a great kid, like there’s no pressure. We hope he stays and we can help build around him for the future, but we’ll see. That’s something we can’t control and so we’re focusing on the now,” Bocanegra said.
Bocanegra wrapped up the presser by discussing how conversations have changed when it comes to bringing players to Atlanta United and how the club attracts potential signings. He recounted his experience meeting with former player Miguel Almiron and “selling a dream” with alluring details of the plans for Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the club’s training ground. Today, the club’s broad brand exposure is a major factor in attracting new talent.
“Now, it’s more people see us on TV,” Bocanegra said, “They see the stadium, they see the facilities and their friends take and people within the soccer community talk and I think this organization has done a fantastic job of giving the resources not only on the field but off the field.”