(Atlanta United Twitter)
In a week of the commissioner subtweeting the Players Association to respond to yet another Collective Bargaining Agreement, a lot of uncertainties develop around the league. Through these weird times, we still found a lot of news and rumors centered around the Five Stripes regarding player acquisitions and reunions within the front office. Let's see how things look in our first-ever ATLUTD Weekly Updates below.
Paul McDonough Comes Home
After accepting the Sporting Director position for the inaugural season of David Beckham's Inter Miami, Paul McDonough officially returns to the front office as the Vice President of Soccer Operations, the same role presented in the club in 2016-2018. The Athletic's Felipe Cardenas first reported the homecoming on January 6th, now finally is official. McDonough, credited for his impressive work in both college scouting and around the MLS Salary Cap, resigned from his position in Miami after just one season. Miami has seen a lot of turnover within the club already, with former Sounders' sporting director Chris Henderson replacing McDonough. Phil Neville, old teammate and friend of Beckham, has also been appointed as the new manager, succeeding Diego Alonso after another unorthodox ending.
Paul has received a lot of praise from the fan base with his contributions in helping Tata Martino field the best roster possible during its first two seasons as a club, most noteworthy in the draft. Julian Gressel, the 8th pick of the 2017 SuperDraft, played such a key role in winning three trophies, while Miles Robinson, the 2nd pick of the same year has converted into a foundational piece in the starting lineup. Even Jon Gallagher recently netted the club up to $275,000 in allocation money after standing as the team's leading scorer in a lost 2020 season. McDonough back in the building will be key moving forward.
Bauer, McFadden Selected in Draft
Speaking of success in recent drafts, two new players have joined the family this week: Josh Bauer (Round 2, Pick 4) and Aiden McFadden (Round 3, Pick 5). Originally having the 5th overall pick, Atlanta United traded it to DC United for $125,000 in General Allocation Money and a swap of 2nd rounders (31 for 32). Still, multiple analysts around the league believe we found Top-5 talent with our second rounder in Josh Bauer. Bauer, mocked to be selected by Atlanta United in the first round by Chris Ransom of Draft Utopia, was a two-time All American Defender at New Hampshire. Without a fall collegiate season, Josh made 3 appearances with USL's Birmingham Legion in 2020. Per Carlos Bocanegra, Bauer trained in Atlanta two summers ago due to the NCAA/MLS agreement allowing college exposure in a professional environment and the club has followed him ever since. The fall of Bauer's stock is unknown, but the value was too good to pass up and Josh will have the opportunity to make a strong impression in training immediately.
Third Round pick Aiden McFadden is the second Irishman selected in club history, who is a solid distributor in the midfield with 6 assists on 49 appearances. McFadden was seen to be somewhat surprised from the news as he did not enter his name in the draft, so he will still have a decision to make in signing a professional contract with Atlanta United 2 or returning for his senior season.
Both Bauer and McFadden impressed in their first press conferences with the media and we wish them both the best in their careers.
Newest Homegrown Contract
Before selecting two college players in the draft, Atlanta United protected winger Machop Chol from other MLS clubs by signing him to a homegrown deal. Chol was a member of the first U18 Academy team but went to school at Wake Forest for four years. During that time, he scored 13 goals and 17 assists in 65 appearances. Bocanegra stated that the club believed he would've been a top-15 selection in the draft if a deal was not reached beforehand. A great story of his progression as a player so far, I am looking forward to continue watching his development in Atlanta.
Two Argentines Set to Join Atlanta?
Reports out of Argentina state that both 37-year old striker Lisandro Lopez and 19-year old midfielder Franco Ibarra will join Heinze and the club this winter transfer window. Respected South American reporter Cesar Luis Merlo has stated both will finalize deals soon. Lopez, a successful finisher across many leagues in Europe and Argentina, will be remembered as a legend at Racing Club. Videos like below show how much the supporters appreciate their captain for his efforts in winning the Primera Division in 2019.
Cardenas also reported that Lopez will occupy a Supplemental Roster spot, which means he will make the league's minimum at $81,375 on a free transfer. This is huge not only for the unknown of superstar Josef Martinez's recovery, but for a young locker room unfamiliar of Heinze's tactics and expectations. Atlanta United deeply struggled to find a scoring threat without Josef, but Lisandro would erase that strong need of effective striker depth right away.
The addition of Ibarra would also supplement a midfield that has so far struggled to replace the absence of Darlington Nagbe a season ago. Ibarra recently found himself starting 10 of the 11 latest matches for Argentino Juniors, who finished 3rd in the league's Championship Division. A fast-growing prospect under Argentina's U20 National Team, the numbers floating around are that Atlanta United is purchasing 80% of Ibarra's rights for $3 million. Merlo, who confirmed today that the transfer has been finalized, hasn't been wrong on an Atlanta United report yet, so there's a very good chance both are officially announced in the coming weeks.
Bello, Robinson Named to Final USMNT January Roster
(Atlanta United Twitter)
United States Manager Gregg Berhalter has announced his 25-man roster for the International Friendly against Trinidad & Tobago. On the list are our very own George Bello and Miles Robinson. Bello will have the opportunity to earn his first cap for the national team, while Robinson has made 2 appearances off the bench in 2019. Awesome and deserved chance for both of them to start off the new season. Tune in to see both guys and the rest of USMNT on January 31st at 7 pm on Fox Sports One, UniMas, or TUDN.
CONCACAF Champions League
On Friday, CONCACAF announced the entire schedule for the 2021 Champions League. The drawing will take place in Miami on February 10th, where each club will learn their Round of 16 opponent and path towards the final. The Round of 16 will be April 6th-8th (1st leg) and April 13th-15th (2nd leg). The quarterfinals continue on April 27th-29th (1st leg) and May 4th-6th (2nd leg). After a break, the semifinals resume on August 10th-12th (1st leg) and August 24th-26th (2nd leg). The final is set for October 26th-28th. I actually enjoy the spread of this year's schedule, as MLS clubs historically find themselves struggling to catch up to Liga MX in the beginning of the season. Atlanta United were gifted a slot in CCL due to being the holding US Open Cup winner. We will analyze and breakdown how things stand when we learn who our future opponent is in a couple weeks, but let's hope the guys can finally make a run in this tournament.
The Coaching Staff Has Finally Arrived in the Dirty South
Doug Roberson of the AJC reported that new manager Gabriel Heinze and his technical staff were expected to arrive in Atlanta by the end of this week. Roberson also noted that once here, the group will still have to quarantine 9-10 days before entering team facilities. Due to the CBA struggles, the beginning of training camp is still to be determined... the anticipation will continue.
Falcons, ATLUTD Retire Number 44 for 2021
A man that defined how to be brave and how to be a Brave, Atlanta phenomenon Hank Aaron passed away at the age of 86 on Friday. In response, both the Falcons and Atlanta United will retire Hank's number this season. Words can't describe how much he meant to the city and to baseball. Rest in peace, Hank.
(The Associated Press)