Where Things Stand at the International Break
Atlanta United dominated their most recent match last Saturday... for the most part. If the game was 80 minutes long, the Five Stripes would've earned three points at home against the East's only remaining unbeaten club Nashville SC. Beautiful goals from Marcelino Moreno and Erik Lopez were balanced out by some missed marking and unfortunate bounces, resulting in a late brace for Nashville Designated Player Hany Mukhtar. For more game notes from this match, check out MLS Now's Gary Levitt recent article. It's just his take.
The late game heroics by Jake Mulraney to Moreno against Montreal and Miles Robinson to Brooks Lennon earning Josef Martinez a penalty in Seattle, Atlanta earned three late points than expected. From this result, the soccer gods brought things back to Earth with two dropped points against Nashville. Trust me, I love wins. Watching those ten minutes were rough, and I know in terms of the players and the majority of the fanbase this felt like a loss, but the first 80 minutes should not be overshadowed. For a team that leads the league in game possession yet has struggled to create opportunities in the final third, this was nice to see. Nashville is a very strong defensive team but Atlanta found holes and looked strong. Saturday showed what the team envisioned with Moreno and Lopez when they were signed for over combined transfer fees of $10 million last summer. Lopez is young and learning a new position, while Moreno is getting better each game and looks more natural in the middle. Direct play allows better opportunities. And although he didn't score, Josef is starting to find lots of confidence in his play as he is forcing himself to be more active around the field.
So where does Atlanta sit in terms of others? Currently they are one spot out of the playoffs with 10 points. Don't worry though as there are still 27 matches to go and the difference between 3rd and 10th place is 3 points. Manager Gabriel Heinze has taken over a roster that was one of the league's worst a season ago and has found himself with the best start for any manager in Atlanta United history. The secondary transfer window opens on July 7th, which I expect the club to push for at least one key rotation signing to prepare for an end-of-season run. The club opened up a senior roster spot last week by waiving defender Jack Gurr. With Lisandro Lopez retiring, an international spot is also free. Designated Player Ezequiel Barco is rumored to be in the eyes of Club America. The two biggest needs for Atlanta are a backup striker behind Josef Martinez and a natural winger that adds more pace to the attack. As much as I've wanted to back Barco, if there's any chance to even get a few million close to break even, I think you need to do it. Apparently Alan Franco will be allowed to be bought down soon, so maybe two DP spots can be opened up. With the pull Heinze has in South American talent, give him as much ability to strengthen this roster as you can under MLS rules.
Speaking of MLS rules, VP of Soccer Operations Paul McDonough and the club mutually part ways as he has been suspended from the league through the 2022 season for his involvement in Inter Miami breaking roster restrictions last season. As one position seems to open up, another seems to be filled as the club will announce a new head coach for Atlanta United 2 very soon.
Atlanta will look for revenge against the Philadelphia Union at home on June 20th at 2 pm. Until then, pray for no injuries through the international break. This team is as close to healthy as they have been in a long time. Fingers crossed.
By the way, let's just take in how beautiful this looks. I need to get down to Atlanta soon to join in on the fun.