Atlanta United in 2020: Making my predictions

October 30, 2019 Atlanta - Atlanta United forward Hector Villalba (15) and Atlanta United midfielder Gonzalo Martinez (10) react as they leave the field during the Eastern Conference Final soccer match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday, October 30, 2019. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
October 30, 2019 Atlanta - Atlanta United forward Hector Villalba (15) and Atlanta United midfielder Gonzalo Martinez (10) react as they leave the field during the Eastern Conference Final soccer match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday, October 30, 2019. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



It’s a new year.

Atlanta United will soon start a new season, its fourth.

While the news cycle is slow, it seemed like an opportunity to provide some bold, and some might say bizarre, predictions for the team.

You never know.

The new away kit will be gold

OK. This was easy because it already has been leaked.

It’s a white kit with gold trim.

It’s plain.

It’s, like most of Adidas’ designs, rather … blech.

It’s going to be hard to see the names and numbers on the back of the kits, just like with the outgoing peach kits.

I’ve been down on most of Adidas’ designs for the past three years. Inter Miami’s just came out. Very blech. And, like with Atlanta United, Adidas had a wonderful palette to use. Instead, it went with something that most of us could have done on an X-box.

Goodbye to the original Argentines

Centerback Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is going to be sold to Tijuana in Mexico. The deal could be announced as early as Thursday.

It’s a shame.

While his 2019 season wasn’t as solid as in 2017 or 2018, he still was one of the better centerbacks in MLS.

Atlanta United’s front office has yet to say why Gonzalez Pirez is being sold. Hopefully, explaining themselves to non-affiliated media a bit more frequently than at the beginning of a season and after the end is among their resolutions.

Gonzalez Pirez could be sold because of his salary, though $800,000 for a centerback is kind of the going rate in MLS these days for quality defenders.

It could be his age, though at 27 he is entering his prime.

It could be that the club bought low and wants to sell high.

It could be that the All-Star game incident created a few scars.

We are left to wonder.

Also seemingly likely gone is Hector Villalba, the first Designated Player signed by the club. His first news conference was held at a hotel downtown with members of the Argentina consulate in attendance.

The end didn’t have nearly the fanfare because of Villalba’s numerous injuries in 2019.

I think both players are fantastic. Imagine Gonzalez Pirez on LAFC. Imagine Villalba playing on the wing for Minnesota or Seattle.

George Bello is going to have a big year

Bello was supposed to be the starting left back in 2019.

Instead, he started one game, the first in the Champions League in mid-February, and then didn’t play in a league game the rest of the season because of injuries.

The 17-year-old has all the tools: speed, technical ability, instincts. He just needs playing time. I think he’s going to get it this year, and it’s going to be fun to watch.

He can play left fullback in a four-man back line, as a wingback in a five-man back line, or, and here’s a thought, as a left midfielder.

Julian Gressel will play for Atlanta United

Again, this seems a cinch because he is under contract with the club.

It’s a bit odd that the club and his agent haven’t reached an agreement on a new contract, though.

The front office explained that the ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement has made it difficult to know what can be spent. But then Emerson Hyndman’s loan was made permanent, and he was given a reported raise of more than $400,000.

The real question is for which team will Gressel play in 2021?

He has been Atlanta United’s most consistent player the past three years because he’s committed to his job, and he rarely has missed games because of injuries or national-team things.

Pity Martinez is going to have a big Champions League

Some who follow me on social media think that I don’t like Pity Martinez because I was critical of his play for most of 2019.

My criticisms are a function of my responsibilities.

They were honest. Most, not all in hindsight, were accurate: He did take way too many long-range shots earlier in the season. His effort on defense wasn’t consistent, to be kind. He tried too many things.

But I think that he truly showed his talent in the season’s final quarter when he played simply and with more effort, and he will apply what he learned in this year’s Champions League.

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been trying to adjust to a new country, new league, new team, new culture, new language, etc. I get anxious just traveling to Columbus, Ohio.

Still, Martinez scored five goals, provided nine assists and helped the club win two trophies.

And then Atlanta United will sell two of its Designated Players

After the Champions League, during the summer transfer window and no matter where the team is in the standings, I think Atlanta United will sell Martinez and Ezequiel Barco, assuming he isn’t sold in January.

Martinez will turn 27 in June. The team reportedly bought him for approximately $15 million. His value right now, according to transfermarkt, is about $15 million. I don’t think that value is going to go up because he is in his prime. The ceiling is inches away. If the team wants to recoup a majority of its money, that time will be either this summer or in January 2021.

Barco, 20, has shown glimpses of what he can do, but injuries have negatively affected him each of the past two seasons, in which he has made only 41 appearances and 30 starts.

If he can stay healthy in the season’s first six months, the biggish clubs in Europe are going to come calling.

Will Atlanta United win trophies?

Expecting to win the Champions League is a bit much.

Anyone who watched the Apertura championship between LIGA MX powers Club America and Monterrey should have seen the difference in quality between clubs in Mexico and MLS.

Atlanta United could get lucky. It has beaten Monterrey. It has beaten Club America to win a trophy last season. But to do so again, the roster needs some major reinforcements because there’s no depth right now at numerous positions.

So, I think the Champions League is more of a wish than an expectation.

What about the U.S. Open Cup, the other trophy won by the club last season? Sure. But it’s difficult.

Seattle is the only club in the modern era to win the tournament in consecutive years.

And, as with the Champions League, success requires depth that Atlanta United doesn’t have right now.

And MLS? Same ideas apply.

Atlanta United opens training camp Jan. 11. That’s 10 days away. The team needs depth, at least five players and possibly as many as 10 depending upon its goals.

The front office is placing importance on the training camp, which is why it denied a request from Argentina for Barco and the U.S. for Brad Guzan, Miles Robinson and Brooks Lennon to participate in their training camps.

What are your predictions for the 2020 season?

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