Atlanta United fans sport kings to legends crowns cheering their team on to a 2-0 victory over Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals of the MLS playoffs on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Atlanta United’s roster may soon start to look very different

If there’s a favorite player on your favorite MLS team, don’t blink because as of Monday he may be your favorite player on some other MLS team.

The MLS Cup is Sunday. Monday, the MLS trade window opens. Wednesday, the trade window closes. The league doesn’t waste time.

It seems probable that Atlanta United will trade at least one player. 

Darlington Nagbe had an unknown issue with the team during the preseason. He has one year remaining on his contract. President Darren Eales and Vice President Carlos Bocanegra are too smart to let Nagbe, arguably the best possession midfielder in MLS, to play out his contract with the team getting nothing (other than three trophies with the chance at more next season) in return. 

Hector Villalba’s playing time diminished to 20 appearances, with just 10 starts, last season due to injuries sustained by him, depth and manager Frank de Boer’s predilection for different players. Villalba scored one goal with four assists and has a salary of roughly $830,000.

Of course, with the ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations between the MLS Players Association and the MLS, it’s going to be interesting to see how trades can be ratified, particularly if things like Targeted Allocation Money and General Allocation Monday are exchanged. Players who are participating in the negotiations have said they want the “buckets” of money used in MLS to be eliminated and replaced by a single pot, from which clubs can spend however they choose. Officials with MLS and its clubs aren’t allowed to discuss the ongoing negotiations. A question has been sent to the MLSPA asking how, or if, trades can be ratified if things like Allocation Money are part of agreements.

And then there are these two key cases: Julian Gressel and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. They are key because, like Nagbe, they each have one year remaining on their contracts.

The differences between Gressel and Gonzalez Pirez and Nagbe are three-fold. First Gressel is 25. Gonzalez-Pirez is 27. They are slightly younger than Nagbe, who is 29.

Second, Gressel made just $133,000 last season while producing six goals and 12 assists. That’s a great return. While Gonzalez Pirez didn’t play as well at centerback this season as the previous two seasons, he is still one of the better centerbacks in the league. They are hard to find. His salary in 2019 is $810,000. That’s a return that’s a bit more difficult to gauge, but there is a growing trend to pay quality centerbacks more. The Red Bulls, Minnesota and LAFC are among the clubs that set the bar.

Third, both players are internationals, but have their Green Cards so don’t count against the roster restrictions used by the league.

So, if you are Atlanta United, do you pay for what the players did — which is common in the other leagues in North America — or do you pay for what they are going to do? There is a middle ground, but it doesn’t seem there is ever a middle salary in pro spots. It’s either a figure that should set up the player and future generations of his family ... or the player is traded.

So, in that scenario the next significant roster dates are Nov. 14, which is the deadline to make contract extensions to players, and Nov. 21, which is the deadline for clubs to exercise contract options. A question has been submitted to the MLSPA office regarding if a team doesn’t offer a player a new contract can the club exercise the option on Nov. 21 and then spend most of 2020 working on a new contract with the player.

Atlanta United’s roster

(Contract information comes for a variety of sources, an asterisk has been used if the contract length hasn’t been verified)

Mo Adams

His contract expires after the 2019 season.*

My take: He won’t be with the club next season.

-

Mikey Ambrose

His contract expires after the 2019 season.

My take: He won’t be with the club next season.

-

Ezequiel Barco

His contract doesn’t expire until after the 2022 season.

My take: If he’s not sold, he will be with the club next season.

George Bello

Homegrown signing whose contract reportedly expires after the 2019 season.* 

My take: He will be with the club next season.

Andrew Carleton

Homegrown signing whose contract reportedly expires after the 2019 season.*

My take: If his contract will expire, I don’t think he will be with the club next season, unless it’s a sign and full-season loan.

Franco Escobar

His contract expires after the 2020 season.

My take: He will be with the club next season.

Luiz Fernando

Recently signed with club.

My take: He will be with the club next season.

Leandro Gonzalez Pirez

There is an option on his contract for 2020 season.

My take: I think he will be sold or traded.

Chris Goslin

Homegrown signing whose contract reportedly expires after the 2019 season.*

My take: If his contract will expire, I don’t think he will be with the club next season. 

Julian Gressel

There is an option on his contract for 2020 season.

My take: He will be with the club next season.

Brad Guzan

No contract info to be found, other than he signed a multi-year deal in 2017.

My take: He will be with the club next season.

Emerson Hyndman

He is on loan from Bournemouth. Atlanta United has an option to buy after the 2019 season.

My take: He will be with the club next season. 

Alec Kann

His contract expires after the 2019 season.

My take: He will be with the club next season.

Kevin Kratz

His contract expires after the 2019 season.

My take: He will not be with the club next season because of his salary ($222,750 in 2019).

Jeff Larentowicz

His contract expires after the 2019 season.

My take: He will be with the club next season.

Pity Martinez

Signed with the club before the 2019 season.

My take: I’m truly unsure if he will be with the club next season. It’s hard to gauge if, on the whole, he enjoyed this season with Atlanta United. I wouldn’t neither be surprised if he returned, or if he was sold, even if it’s at a loss. He scored five goals with nine assists on a salary of $900,000 and reported transfer fee of at least $12 million (different reports had different fees).

Josef Martinez

Signed a five-contract before the start of the season.

My take: He will be with the club next season.

Justin Meram

No contract info to be found, other than he signed a multi-year deal in 2017.

My take: I think he will be with the club next season, but not knowing how many years are remaining, if any, on his contract, make him a wildcard.

Brendan Moore

His contract expires after the 2019 season.

My take: He will be with the club next season.

Darlington Nagbe

His contract expires after the 2020 season.

My take: This is the player whose future may be most determined by the CBA. Atlanta United has a short history of not paying too much for veterans, as evidenced by the trade of Greg Garza and releasing Chris McCann earlier this season. I don’t think Nagbe will be with the club next season.

Michael Parkhurst

He is retiring.

My take: He won’t be with the club as a player next season.

Dion Pereira

No info available, but it’s believed his contract won’t expire until after 2021 season.

My take: He will be with the club next season.

Florentin Pogba

There is an option for next season.

My take: He will be with the club next season.

Eric Remedi

His contract doesn’t expire until after the 2021 season.

My take: He will be with the club next season.

Miles Robinson

Received a new contract with extension during the season.

My take: If he’s not sold, and if I were a club in Europe I’d look to buy him now rather than wait another season when his price will likely increase, he will be with the club next season. The club can’t sell him and Gonzalez Pirez with Michael Parkhurst not being with the club next season as a player. George Campbell is intriguing, though.

Brek Shea

His contract expires after the 2019 season.*

My take: With George Bello healthy and available, I don’t think he will be with the club next season. If Meram isn’t retained, Shea could be.

Brandon Vazquez

His contract expires after the 2019 season.

My take: I think Vazquez has a very bright future. Playing time is the issue. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were to be sold or re-signed and loaned for a season so that he can get consistent playing time.

Hector Villalba

Team has an option on contract following 2019 season.*

My take: If Barco is sold, Villalba may want to return because it could mean more playing time. If Barco isn’t sold, I think Villalba may ask to be sold, or he will be traded.

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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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