The upcoming summer transfer window opening on July 7 could be one of the most important in Atlanta United history as the Five Stripes are in desperate need of making a move to turn around the club’s prospects under manager Gabriel Heinze. At Dirty South Soccer, we will use the next several weeks to go through some names that might be uttered in the offices at the team’s training ground as club brass deliberate on who can be added to help strengthen the team. Some of these may be more far-fetched than others, and we’re certainly not reporting any links between parties, but figured it’d be a productive and fun exercise. Let us know what other players we should take a closer look at in the comments.
Name: Santiago Muñoz
Position: Center Forward
Club: Santos Laguna (Liga MX)
The last few weeks have made it abundantly clear that Atlanta United needs better options behind Josef Martinez. The club needs a young and prolific striker who can put the goal in the back of the net while playing in a complex pressing and build-up scheme. A young soon-to-be Mexican-American Olympian may be the perfect fit.
Ahead of his recent Mexican U-23 Olympic Qualifying match against the US, The Athletic profiled Muñoz as “a skillful and technical No. 9 with a keen eye for goal...a brazen attitude inside the box and a budding ability to create goals for himself or pounce on opportune moments... awareness in front of an opponent’s back line and ability to play in tight spaces are his strengths.”
The article goes into detail concerning his maturity, mentality, and willingness to work within the rigorous and strict confines of Guillermo Almada’s tutelage. Almada is a prolific former River Plate manager known for his youth development and an emphasis on a highly disciplined and aggressive pressing style of play. By all accounts, Muñoz fits that system perfectly and has aspirations of one day following his hero, Santiago Muñez of the cult-classic “Goal! The Dream Begins” to Newcastle.
As far as real-world heroes, he models his game after Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski. After making his first-team debut back in October, Muñoz has fought hard to establish himself as the club’s starting option at the #9 position. When the Uruguayan starter Brian Lozano went down with a broken leg, Muñoz capitalized on his opportunity, scoring three goals in five matches. Omar Tapía, Santos’ U-20 coach, told The Athletic, “Those who have had the pleasure of working with him since he arrived… he already has that slyness that a striker needs to have. He’s not just a finisher. He’s not just a central striker. He can go off-script. At the beginning, he didn’t take many risks, but with time he became a cunning striker, which is why, today, he’s a starter.”
Muñoz will also soon be in the middle of a major competition for his services as Mexico and the United States attempt to secure him as a senior team option going forward. In an interview with The Striker (a Texan soccer publication) Muñoz shared that he has been approached by the US about playing for the team and remains open to both the US and Mexico, but “Mexico called me first and I’ve been working with them for a while now, and of course when I got there, I took advantage of the chance. I feel good with them and how they treat me and everything, but I don’t know if, in the future, it will be better to be in Mexico or be in the United States with the national team.”
Why it could happen
Atlanta United has done this before. Back in 2016, Atlanta United signed a promising 18-year-old dual-national youth international from Club Tijuana named Brandon Vazquez. Five years later, they could do the same thing but with a player who comes from a very similar playing style and pedigree to what Gabriel Heinze is building. There is a clear path to playing time for Muñoz who will be competing primarily with Jackson Conway and Erik Lopez for minutes behind Josef Martinez. He should adjust to the new tactics quickly and get opportunities early and often to compete. Plus, he has a Front Office that has already paved the way to Newcastle with Miguel Almiron’s league record sale.
Why it wouldn’t happen
There are two big reasons here. One is Santos Laguna has big plans for the youngster and does not want to part with him yet. The other is that our Front Office may not be looking at players like this as options, focusing instead on South America.