Two possibilities if Atlanta United sells Thiago Almada

What might Atlanta United do if it sells Thiago Almada?

It’s a question that I’ve thought about a lot during this exciting World Cup, one that includes Almada with Argentina, which will play Netherlands on Friday.

Atlanta United President Garth Lagerwey told its radio partner that Almada is the player the team will be built around.

But if when the transfer window opens in January it gets an offer of, let’s say at least $20 million for the attacking midfielder, I would think it would have to mull selling because it would be a profit of at least $5 million.

So ... what then for the club?

Does it immediately take that money and invest in another DP-caliber playmaker?

For a few reasons, I think it might wait.

The team does have options to fill that slot, two of which are already on the roster, though neither may be appealing.

The first is to slide Marcelino Moreno, a former DP, into the role. It’s very clear that Moreno is more effective in the middle than on the wing. Half of his 20 career goals have come when he has played as an AM. Six more of his goals have come when he’s played as a central midfielder. Half of his 26 career assists have come when he’s been an AM or a CM. It’s also clear that Moreno doesn’t always execute the pass-and-move, let-the-ball-do-the-work, tactics that manager Gonzalo Pineda prefers. But he is a known commodity. He knows the team. He knows MLS. There would be no adjustments and patience needed if the team were to bring in someone from another league.

The other option, and this one perhaps also isn’t palatable for Atlanta United supporters, is to bring back Ezequiel Barco from his loan at River Plate and give him one last chance to show that he can be what Almada became in his only season with the club.

Barco scored 17 goals with 17 assists in 81 appearances for the club from 2018-2021. There were always flashes of his brilliance. There was never consistency. Barco became more famous for his ability to draw fouls, which has plusses and minuses, in his last two seasons than anything else.

The club sent him on a two-year loan to River Plate before the 2022 season to free up space for Almada and to try to spark Barco to fulfill his potential. It hasn’t exactly worked. He scored five goals with four assists in 45 appearances last season but he only scored one with two assists in 25 league appearances. The rest came in lower rounds of tournaments. His market value has dropped below $10 million, according to transfermarkt.us. If he were to come back, it would be as a DP.

If Barco doesn’t get more consistent playing time and a chance to fulfill his potential then Atlanta United will almost certainly be forced to eat most, if not all, the reported $13 million it paid Independiente to get him.

The club could also consider giving Emerson Hyndman, who is recovering from a quad injury, a shot until the secondary transfer window opens during the summer and then go shopping for a DP-caliber conductor.

Lagerwey has a history from his years in Seattle of buying DPs during the summer.

Of course, none of this matters if the team doesn’t sell Almada.

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