With the deadline for contract options approaching, Atlanta United unveiled a slew of roster moves the club will be making this offseason, giving us a better picture of what the team will look like heading into next season.
** DISCLAIMER ** Before going any further, I want to note that this is a tough time for many of these players. Oftentimes in sports, we talk about players like they’re nothing more than monetary assets. I include myself in that group, as will become evident in just a few paragraphs. For players, who were released, retired, or didn’t have contracts renewed, I think I speak for all Atlanta United fans when I say thank you for what you’ve given the club over the last exhilarating year. Best of luck for whatever lies ahead.
Now let’s get into the roster. Atlanta parted ways with at least 9 players who ended the season on Atlanta’s roster:
GK: Alex Tambakis, Kyle Reynish
DEF: Tyrone Mears, Zach Loyd, Mark Bloom, Bobby Boswell
MID: Harrison Heath
FWD: Kenwyne Jones, Jeffrey Otoo
With those players gone, here’s what Atlanta has left on its current roster:
Atlanta’s roster is still plenty strong since the outgoing players were mostly on the fringes of the squad. One of the noticeable missing players in this chart is Jeff Larentowicz, who was strangely left off Atlanta United’s press release completely. Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra told reporters Monday at a press conference that the club is negotiating with the 34-year-old veteran, so it’s safe to assume that he was on a one-year contract with the club.
Of course, what really forces a club’s hand when it comes to roster moves like these is weighing the cost-benefit ratio. How much is Player A benefiting the team, and does said benefit outweigh the cost of his contract against the salary cap or his roster spot? Another issue Atlanta is running into is the age of its DPs. While it’s unclear at this point how harshly this will affect Atlanta (watch this space), Atlanta will have more than twice the cap hit on at least one of it’s designated players. This is due to Atlanta’s “Young Designated Players” beginning to cross the age threshold that will make them regular DPs, thus making them cost more against Atlanta United’s salary cap. So Atlanta needed to shed some salary.
As far as explaining the “cuts,” there are a whole host of other roster-building reasons. In MLS, you may have a maximum of 30 players, but the last 10 spots are labeled “reserve,” meaning they don’t count against the salary cap, but they have to fit certain parameters, such as being a home grown, on a Generation Adidas contract, on the league minimum contract, etc. It’s all very confusing, and if your head is spinning after reading that, just know that mine is too. Let’s forget all about that and look forward to potential moves based on the current roster.
Areas to address
Right back: Assuming Atlanta is not able to re-acquire Anton Walkes after his loan spell, the team needs a starting RB. Hell, even if they can get Walkes back, they need a starting RB. That’s not a shot at Walkes either — I think he’s a very promising MLS player — but he’s not the kind of fullback that Tata Martino probably wants in an ideal world. Martino would likely prefer a quicker, more agile player who can be dynamic up and down the pitch. Perhaps, after a year of seasoning, Julian Gressel could fill this role. I still feel like that’d be a case of trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole though, and Gressel has shown to be clinical with scoring opportunities. Regardless, we will definitely see someone come in to fill the shoes of Tyrone Mears.
Attacker: I almost listed this as “backup striker,” but it seems clear at this point that if we are without Josef Martinez, Tito Villalba will be the one to come in and assume that role up top. He had his ups and downs there last season, but I expect he’ll be better having spent a year gelling with his teammates, and those teammates should be better equipped to provide him decent service. But if you move Tito, that leaves a hole in the attacking midfield/wing position. Obviously we will have Andrew Carleton this year, but it might be worth looking into bringing in some outside reinforcement *coughcoughLucasRodriguez*
Central midfield: Again, Atlanta has a homegrown player that looks primed to fight for a position here and force his way into the side in Chris Goslin, but you can’t really rely on that happening. Maybe loaning a solid veteran would be a good move here. A player in the mold of — oh I don’t know — Jeff Larentowicz might be a solid option!
Center back depth : Atlanta United relied so heavily on Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez to command the back line last year. It’s hard to see that kind of consistency happen again, especially with Parkhurst turning 34 years old in January. I suspect this was the reason Anton Walkes was brought to Atlanta in the first place, but it turned out the team needed his help more at RB instead. Atlanta has Miles Robinson, last year’s 2nd overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft waiting in the wings, but honestly, we don’t know if he’s good enough at this point.
The moves made today are just the beginning of what is sure to be an extremely silly season. Strap yourselves in tight!