Atlanta United midfielder Pity Martinez reacts to scoring a goal against Orlando City for a 1-0 lead in a MLS soccer match on Sunday, May 12, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Atlanta United 2020 roster analysis: Help is needed

Atlanta United will open training camp for its 2020 MLS season, as well as its Champions League and U.S. Open Cup campaigns, on Saturday.

The team is placing a premium on this training camp as it prepares for the Champions League opening round in February. The evidence is the decisions to not allow Brad Guzan, Brooks Lennon and Miles Robinson to join the U.S. men’s national team camp, and for Ezequiel Barco to join the Argentina U-23 camp. Both camps are running mostly concurrently with Atlanta United’s.

But the team has a lot of holes, which you would think would start to be filled quickly if this camp is as important as we are led to believe because now is when chemistry is developed and tactics are fine-tuned. Once the season starts, there won’t be a lot of time. This was proven true last year.

Here is the roster, currently containing 21 players:
Mo Adams, WB/DM
Ezequiel Barco, M/S
George Bello, FB/WB
George Campbell, CB
Andrew Carleton, M
Franco Escobar, CB/FB/WB
Jon Gallagher, S
Julian Gressel, M/WB
Brad Guzan, GK
Emerson Hyndman, DM/CM
Alec Kann, GK
Lagos Kunga, S
Jeff Larentowicz, DM/CB
Brooks Lennon, FB/WB/M
Josef Martinez, S
Pity Martinez, AM/S
Brendan Moore, GK
Luiz Nascimento, M/S
Dion Pereira, M
Eric Remedi, DM/CM
Miles Robinson, CB
Hector Villalba, M/S

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Here is its current roster, grouped by positions that manager Frank de Boer used most frequently in either the 4-4-1-1, 3-4-2-1 or 4-3-3 formations (Player; total league starts in 2019; number of games started at that position):

Goalkeepers 

Brad Guzan (34; 34)
Alec Kann (0)
Brendan Moore (0)

This position seems solid going into training camp. Guzan tied the league lead for shutouts (14) last season and put together a scoreless streak of more than 500 minutes.

Kann could be a starter for several MLS clubs. I’m surprised that Houston hasn’t tried to trade for him. The Dynamo have an asset that, if I were Atlanta United, I would want.

Centerbacks

George Campbell (0)
Franco Escobar (22; 5)
Jeff Larentowicz (15; 1)
Miles Robinson (33; 33)

Very, very thin. Robinson is the anchor. Escobar can play centerback but seems better suited for a wingback in MLS. Campbell has so much talent but has yet to start in MLS.

Larentowicz can play centerback, but his best position is defensive midfielder.

Perhaps the club will bring back Flo Pogba.

Even if they do, at least one more signing and really two more are needed.

Fullbacks

George Bello (0)
Franco Escobar (22; 16)
Brooks Lennon (16; 13)

Yes. Three fullbacks. That’s it. And one may need to play centerback.

The club is reportedly going to sign Paraguayan 22-year-old left back Santiago Arzamendia, but it seems like an odd report because the potential transfer fee would make him a Designated Player and Atlanta United has its three under the current CBA, and the team has Bello, who is extremely talented and was supposed to start at left back last year before injuries stopped that.

It’s possible that the team sees Bello as a midfielder and Arzamendia as a fullback. Still, that’s a lot of money for a fullback.

At least two more fullbacks are needed.

Wingbacks 

Mo Adams (1)
George Bello (0)
Franco Escobar (22; 1)
Julian Gressel (31; 7)
Brooks Lennon (16; 3)
Dion Pereira (7; 6)

The team seems OK here.

Defensive midfielders

Mo Adams (1)
Jeff Larentowicz (15; 14)
Eric Remedi (25; 24 with one start as a left midfielder)

Darlington Nagbe is the hole in the roster here.

The team could use another defensive midfielder. Larentowicz is a warrior and Remedi seemed to fall out of favor with de Boer near the end of the season.

Central midfielders

Julian Gressel (6;6)
Emerson Hyndman (10; 2; he also played as a left midfielder in one game)
Eric Remedi (25; 0)

Gressel can’t play every position so the team needs to sign at least one more central midfielder. Reports are on and then off about the team signing another Paraguayan, Mathias Villasanti. Again, Villasanti and Arzamendia are supposed to be a $7 million package. Atlanta United can’t spend $7 million because it has its three DPs. The team could be gambling that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, whenever agreed to and ratified, relaxes the rules and allows teams to spend what they want, within reason. Or, the team may have an agreement in place to sell one of its three Designated Players. Or, it’s gambling, which is what it did last year when Pity Martinez was in camp at the same time as Miguel Almiron, who was later sold to Newcastle to relieve the three-DP logjam.

Either way, at least one more player is needed.

Wide midfielders

Ezequiel Barco (11; 6)
Andrew Carleton (0)
Julian Gressel (31; 18)
Pity Martinez (26; 13)
Luiz Nascimento (0)
Dion Pereira (7; 1)
Hector Villalba (10; 10)

Villalba is reportedly on the trading block. Barco has trouble staying healthy. Nascimento is unknown. Carleton is unknown. Pereira fell out of favor last year but, like Carleton, is very young and has a lot of potential. Martinez is better suited centrally than out wide in MLS.

An impactful signing is needed.

Attacking midfielders

Ezequiel Barco (11; 5)
Andrew Carleton (0)
Emerson Hyndman (10; 7)
Pity Martinez (26; 13)

The team seems OK here.

Strikers

Jon Gallagher (0)
Lagos Kunga (0)
Josef Martinez (29; 29)
Pity Martinez (26; 0)
Hector Villalba (10; 0)

The team could use another veteran strike to backup Josef Martinez.

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About the Author

Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson
Doug Roberson covers the Atlanta United and Major League Soccer.
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