Updated: Feb 4, 2021
Rumors around player signings have really started to elevate once Gabriel Heinze and his technical staff arrived in Atlanta. Maybe it's just a coincidence, maybe it's because the newest Collective Bargaining Agreement is progressing from both sides, or maybe it's that Paul McDonough has officially returned, but I expect to start seeing both incoming and outgoing roster moves complete through these next couple weeks. After Atlanta United could not pull off a miracle in the Moises Caicedo sweepstakes, it was clear a defensive midfielder was still the strongest position of need. In response comes Franco Ibarra, a recent bloomer from one of Heinze's previous managerial stops Argentinos Juniors. Although Ibarra does not have a lot of experience, he logged 10 starts in their previous 11 matches, which is very impressive on a club that finished in 3rd place in the recent Primera Division's Championship Group A. Transfermarkt has listed the agreement finalized at $2.73 million, while TyC Sports' Cesar Merlo reported Atlanta has acquired 80% of his rights.
Ibarra has loads of potential, but he is 19 years old and has only logged 845 career minutes. Is he truly the immediate answer for a midfield that struggled to create smooth build ups from the back line into the attack? For a midfield that lacked forceful tackling and marking on opponents' counters? Even though I am very excited about his arrival to the team, I don't believe he will be enough and it appears our front office feels the same way. Earlier this morning, Argentina reporter German Garcia Grova stated the club has purchased River Plate's Santiago Sosa for $6 million. He later confirmed that the fee will be for 70% of his rights. The Athletic's Felipe Cardenas confirmed these reports and said the midfielder will sign soon. These rumors turned into confirmation rapidly this morning as it seems all but announced from the club that Sosa will become a Five Stripe. In the 2019 Summer Window, Sosa was rumored to be signed by Premier League side Everton for $17-18 million, but talks fell apart after an apparent setback for a work permit. Now coming to MLS at a portion of that cost, Sosa brings a lot to this young squad.
Compared to by River fans (who don't look to be too happy about this news) having similar traits of Javier Mascherano, Santiago Sosa is known as a deep-lying playmaker, something Atlanta United has struggled to find after having one of, if not the league's best at it in Darlington Nagbe. He has made 21 appearances for River over the past two seasons, logging one assist. He might not have been a frequent choice of manager Marcelo Gallardo, but also found himself behind a midfield trio of Nicolas De La Cruz, Nacho Fernandez, and Enzo Perez, one of the most dangerous across the Americas. Sosa is also familiar with one of Atlanta's own, as he was apart of the 2019 Argentina U20 World Cup roster with Ezequiel Barco. Sosa has 13 appearances across 959 minutes with the youth national team, along with captaining two of them.
Sosa's strengths have been told to be his ease for picking out upfield passes, which is something the club really lacked in a forgettable 2020 campaign as Atlanta United led the entire league in pass backs to the keeper. He is also a very strong tackler, which again proves to be a necessity in this lineup. On paper, Sosa checks all of the boxes on what we should be looking for in a defensive midfielder, and the combination of him and Ibarra could co-develop over time into one of the strongest young tandems in the league. Looking at how important this position has been for Heinze's formations in the past, one being Chicago Fire Designated Player Gaston Gimenez, I am very (cautiously) optimistic on these two. Of course, these transfers have been signed off by Heinze, so he definitely has his own vision of how they'll fit.
One question that I have is if Sosa will be a Designated Player or not. Due to the rumored Young Player Initiative in the CBA, MLS clubs will be allowed to have up to three 22-and-under signings on a reduced hit in the salary cap. Through this, the transfer fee will be voided but the only limitation is that the player must not be making more than $612,500 for the 2021 season. So if Sosa makes less than this number, he will qualify for one of the spots, along with Franco Ibarra and exciting attacker Erik Lopez, who showed lots of quality in his debut against Club America in December. If he does indeed make more he will be a DP, meaning Marcelino Moreno's contract would have to be bought down using the necessary allocation money or an outgoing loan/transfer of Moreno/Barco/Martinez must occur. My guess would be on the former, leaving open the possibility of still chasing another key signing this window if Moreno is able to be bought down.
As of now, there are currently five central midfielders on the roster: Marcelino Moreno (more attacking), Emerson Hyndman, Matheus Rossetto, Mo Adams, and Eric Remedi. Adding Ibarra and Sosa to the mix would mean an overload in terms of money versus minutes on one position. Of course, strong depth at the midfielder position is a great thing to have, but in a salary-capped league I believe this might point to a departure soon. Eric Remedi, whose contract expires at the end of the season, has been rumored to loan options by Argentine clubs San Lorenzo and Independiente. Maybe the news today signals some truth to these rumors, but ultimately time will tell.
Hopefully we'll see that smiling face in Atlanta soon, Santiago!