Happy New Year! After a successful 2018 that saw Atlanta United win its first MLS Cup, the calendar turns to 2019. And a lot of change is in store: a new coach, a big transfer signing, a potential departure of one of the club’s top players, and a new competition for the Five Stripes to make their way through.
In what’s become an annual tradition for us at DSS, I want to take a dive into the 2019 season and make a few predictions for what may be to come for the club. In the past two years we’ve done this, we’ve hit on a couple (i.e. Atlanta winning the Cup) and missed on a few, but the main objective of this post is to have a little fun and see how things end up around this time in 2020.
Without further delay...let’s go.
George Bello will be the full-time starter at left back by season’s end
Atlanta’s acquisition of Brek Shea means (we think?) a full house at left back with Mikey Ambrose, Chris McCann and Jose Hernandez all on the depth chart. But it’s Bello, who turned heads in his appearances last year, who will find himself as Frank de Boer’s first choice at the spot. Whether that’s right off the bat or around midseason remains to be seen, but Bello is too talented a player to be left wasting away on the bench. Now it’s a matter of proving it to the new regime, which I think he’ll have no trouble doing.
Andrew Carleton will depart Atlanta United
The team’s first homegrown player saw a bit more time in the professional ranks last season with both Atlanta United and ATL UTD 2, as mentioned above. But sooner or later, the Powder Springs native - who turns 18 in June - is going to want a fair shake at some consistent playing time at the MLS level. Whether that happens in 2019 comes down to a few things: whether he can make a positive impression on de Boer; whether he can take the next step from heralded prospect to legitimate MLS (and national) talent; and if he can show maturity off the field. If he can’t hit on all three, then perhaps his fortunes are better spent elsewhere.
Pity Martinez will be the MLS MVP in his first season
I doubt that Pity Martinez will rack up a 30-plus goal campaign like Josef Martinez (no relation) did in 2018. But it’s clear that the Argentinian is in the beginning stages of the prime of his career, and the trajectory he’s on right now may mean that he’s playing overseas with a bigger club around mid-2020. He probably won’t provide the same defensive workrate and pure speed that Miguel Almiron possesses, but he’ll blossom into a solid playmaker on the wing - and at times, scorer - for the club in his first campaign wearing the Atlanta shirt.
Ezequiel Barco will break the 10-assist mark
It was a bit frustrating to watch Barco in 2018; when he was on his game, he showed the dribbling ability, pace and elusiveness that led Atlanta United to drop $15 million to bring him from Independiente to the U.S. But a visible lack of confidence and consistent decision making ability on the field, as well as transgressions off the field, hampered his development. Adding to the frustration was watching Kaku, whose discovery rights were dealt by Atlanta to the Red Bulls for GAM in February, enjoy a more successful campaign. I think that Barco’s move to a more familiar position of midfield thanks to Almiron’s rumored pending departure and Pity Martinez’s also-rumored incoming transfer, coupled with a year of experience under his belt and de Boer’s arrival, will equal a marked improvement.
Atlanta United will win Concacaf Champions League
Toronto FC came oh-so-close last year to knocking out Chivas and becoming the first MLS side to win Concacaf Champions League since it replaced the Champions’ Cup in 2008. Atlanta United has to be the first, right? It should (should) be able to make quick work of Herediano before facing what will likely be Monterrey in the quarterfinals. After that, who knows? Compared to last year’s path to the final for TFC - it faced Colorado in the Round of 16 before sneaking past Tigres on away goals and ousting América - this is arguably a better draw for the Five Stripes than the one their counterparts north of the border had.