Atlanta United's Offseason Must Enter A New Dimension.
Unlike the famous song by the Fifth Dimension, Atlanta's offseason will not include anything to do with an age of love, light, and humanity. For the second time in three years, and what has been a few years of turmoil, the club faces some key questions and decisions with both the player pool and the front office. In no particular order:
The club must hire a new President. Darren Eales' departure to Newcastle as left a void that must be filled with a high-level operator, marketer, and someone with MLS experience. The Seattle Sounders' Garth Lagerwey has been mentioned as he obviously fits the criteria, but why leave the Sounders? The new hire will have many decisions to make including retaining technical director Carlos Bocanegra and other front office executives.
Carlos Bocanegra. Does he stay or does he go? Along with Eales' guidance, Bocanegra has had free reign with player spend to find the right combination of players. While he did build a good bit of depth with the player pool, the chemistry of the top fourteen players has not yielded positive results. There have been other factors that led to the demise of this club, one being injuries, but the manager rotation and lack of on field leadership has put this once eye-opening club into an unsettled situation.
Gonzalo Pineda's resistance to change. Atlanta hired Pineda to bring some substance and stability to the club that had seen off Gabriel Heinze and Frank de Boer. I like Pineda's process-oriented style, but that process has led to his insistence that the club play a possession-oriented system, no matter the level of players on the field. This is one area that I absolutely disagree with Pineda, as over an over this type of system led to systemic giveaways in the defensive and middle third of the field, oft times conceding early goals to the opposition. I do not think, from a holistic viewpoint, that Atlanta's players are good enough out of the back and in midfield to play Pineda's insistent style of possession...with one exception, and that is Santiago Sosa. Pineda studies analytics and metrics. With that said, this measurement from yesterday's loss to New England was repeated throughout the season: The expected goals were 2.51 - 1.31 in favor of New England, but Atlanta had 62% of the possession. I have said it more than once and for the final time this season, doing the same thing over and over without a result is insanity.
Josef Martinez changed the landscape of sports in Atlanta. His goal scoring prowess and dynamic play was a key factor in igniting a team that played a fast, aggressive, and at times risky style for the two years under Tata Martino. Josef's injuries, clashes with managers and players, and attitude has unfortunately led to a slow and painful demise in his performance. It is time for Josef to find a new club, which will help him and Atlanta United. Some people say Josef "is done" which could not be further from the truth. He needs to find the right club, manager, and system of play to extend his career and show off his ability to score amazing goals. Yesterday's last minute golazo is what Josef Martinez is all about:
The player pool must be shaken, not stirred. I am not going to pick apart individual players who need to leave the club, but the new president of the club and either Carlos Bocanegra or his replacement must see off a number of marginal players. Questions do remain if goalkeeper Brad Guzan can come back at 100% after his achilles injury, as well as midfielders Ozzie Alonso and Emerson Hyndman, who are fighting to come back from knee surgeries. The mind mapping that will take place in the offseason regarding the player pool will be very interesting.
I have enjoyed providing my take on Atlanta United. The dynamics of the club have been interesting to observe over the years. The offseason will be interesting and there should be a great amount of news coming out of club over the next four months. Here is to hoping that the changes made are positive ones. I am not sure I will be covering the Five Stripes in 2023 - that is up to the editors of MLSNow. Good luck to all the clubs that will be participating in the playoffs.
Gary Levitt @gary1123 justmytake.net
photo credit: USA Today