Which Atlanta United players will return in 2021?

October 7, 2020 Atlanta - Atlanta United players react as they leave the field in a MLS soccer match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Wednesday, October 7, 2020. The game ended with the score 0-0. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
October 7, 2020 Atlanta - Atlanta United players react as they leave the field in a MLS soccer match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Wednesday, October 7, 2020. The game ended with the score 0-0. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Atlanta United has begun to reshape its roster in hopes of not repeating in 2021 what happened in 2020. Unless announced by the players, the team likely won’t announce which contract options it has picked up on players until the league’s deadline for doing so at the end of the month.

The team is in a delicate situation. It failed to make the playoffs for the first time but at the same time President Darren Eales and Vice President Carlos Bocanegra believe that the roster is better than the results produced under Frank de Boer and then interim Stephen Glass. The next manager has yet to be named.

If the team should make wholesale changes it risks for the second consecutive season not developing chemistry on the field and repeating the same results as this season.

Not good.

Here, in my opinion, are the players that the team will retain and which ones won’t be with the team next season. When I write that he won’t return, it could be because the option was declined, the player was traded, the player was transferred or the player retired:

Goalkeepers

Brad Guzan, 23 starts, 1.30 goals against per 90 minutes. Not his best season but earlier this year he received a contract extension. He remains one of the league’s best goalkeepers. He is one of the team’s leaders in the locker room and on the field.

My prediction: He will return.

Alec Kann, 0 starts. Good enough to start for quite a few MLS teams I think he will stay because it is home.

My prediction: He will return.

Brendan Moore, 0 starts.

My prediction: He won’t return.

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Fullbacks

George Bello, 20 appearances, 1,643 minutes, 1 goal, 1 assist. One of the season’s bright spots and a player with a terrific future. Through tough lessons, he’s learned how to take care of his body. Now, he just needs to remain lucky.

My prediction: He will return.

Edgar Castillo, 4 appearances. Injuries and Bello’s play relegated him to the bench for most of the season. He will join a long line of left backs who have played one season for the club and then don’t return.

My prediction: He won’t return.

Franco Escobar, 16 appearances, 1 assist, 8 yellow cards. This is one of the toughest to assess. Supporters appreciate his passion and leadership. His penchant for silly fouls remains his biggest area of improvement. The question is does he want to return or would he prefer to go home and play in Argentina to be close to his family during these tumultuous times? It’s unknown. I think the team will want him back but I don’t think they would stand against him should he want to go home.

My prediction: He will return.

Brooks Lennon, 23 appearances, 1,752 minutes, two goals, three assists. The team’s best player this season.

My prediction: He will return.

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Centerbacks

George Campbell, 1 appearance.

My prediction: He will return but spend most of his time with Atlanta United 2.

Fernando Meza, 13 appearances, 28.6 percent successful tackle percentage, 70 percent of aerial duals won. Bought to replace Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, he didn’t have the year anyone expected. His positioning and decision-making, at times, was bizarre. He has acknowledged he can be better.

What can’t be ascertained is how difficult the year was for players whose families weren’t with them. I can’t imagine being separated from my family for even a few weeks much less a few months and still be able to focus on my job.

Having said all that, if Meza returns, I think he will be a much different, much better player.

The team needs a veteran centerback.

My prediction: He will return.

Miles Robinson, 17 appearances, 64.7 percent successful tackle percentage, 77.6 percent of aerial duals won.

My prediction: He will return.

Anton Walkes, 17 appearances, 38.9 percent successful tackle percentage, 58.1 percent of aerial duals won. He said earlier this year that he has tried to get back to MLS and Atlanta United since leaving. I don’t think he is going anywhere.

My prediction: He will return.

Laurence Wyke, 7 appearances.

My prediction: He will return but spend most of next season with Atlanta United 2.

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Central midfielders

Mo Adams, 13 appearances, 24.2 percent successful pressures, 90.2 percent passing completion. Eales and Bocanegra said there are several positions that need strengthening. Defensive midfielder is one of those positions. That’s not a knock on Adams, who started to play well once he started consecutive games. But there is depth, and possibly a clear every day starter, needed.

My prediction: He will return.

Emerson Hyndman, 20 appearances, 2 goals, 2 assists. Next to Escobar, his future with the club is the biggest conundrum because his contract is believed to be quite large and this team has a history of getting rid of players with big contracts. Hyndman is much better as an attacking midfielder than a defensive midfielder and the team has quite a few attacking midfielders.

I think Hyndman is a good player. I think Hyndman has a bright future. I don’t know if it will be with Atlanta United.

My prediction: He won’t return.

Jeff Larentowicz, 19 appearances, two goals.

My prediction: I hope he returns because he deserves to go out better than this season’s result.

Eric Remedi, 18 appearances, 5.9 percent successful tackle percentage. He fell out of favor with Frank de Boer and then with Stephen Glass and it’s not clear why, though he hasn’t matched his form from his first season.

My prediction: He won’t return.

Matheus Rossetto, 15 appearances, 0.02 expected goals per 90 minutes, 0.04 expected assists per 90 minutes. Much too much was expected of Rossetto early this season, mostly because of his play from a game against a poor USL side. Context, folks.

For most of this season he wasn’t impactful. That began to change toward the end of the season when he was healthy enough to start consecutive games and began to show his potential. It’s going to be exciting to watch him with Marcelino Moreno next season.

My prediction: He will return.

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Wide midfielders

Ezequiel Barco, 15 appearances, 2 goals, 2 assists. Just as with Pity Martinez, Barco’s time with Atlanta United seems to have run its course. He has issues staying injury free and when he’s injury free he has issues being productive. The season’s last five games, when the team desperately needed points, he notched neither a goal nor an assist. That was after missing the previous seven games with an injury.

He is a player with talent but he’s not Designated Player-level, at least at this stage of his career, with this team.

Perhaps a new manager can unlock what’s inside but three previous managers haven’t been able to find the key.

My prediction: He won’t return.

Manuel Castro, 10 appearances.

My prediction: He won’t return.

Jon Gallagher, 16 appearances, team-leading 4 goals. The season’s biggest surprise. His future may depend upon what the team does with Barco. If he’s sold, will the team buy a left winger? If they do, Gallagher’s playing time will be minimized. So, if that happens, will Gallagher want to remain and perhaps not play nearly as much as this season after he took his opportunity and capitalized?

My prediction: He won’t return.

Jake Mulraney, 18 appearances, 1 goal, 1 assist. If Gallagher is traded, the team must keep Mulraney to keep depth on the left side. I think Mulraney is a much better player than he showed this season.

My prediction: He will return.

Jurgen Damm, 14 appearances, team-leading four assists.

My prediction: He will return.

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Strikers/Attacking midfielders

Andrew Carleton, on loan with Indy Eleven in USL. Seems that his time with the team is likely over, unless there are some heartfelt mea culpas and ownership of past mistakes.

My prediction: He won’t return.

Adam Jahn, 21 appearances, 3 goals, 2 assists. He wasn’t expected to play nearly as minutes as he did this season after Josef Martinez suffered a season-ending injury in the first game. With those minutes came increased scrutiny on Jahn’s performances, some of which was unfair.

My prediction: He won’t return.

Lagos Kunga, on loan with Phoenix in USL.

My prediction: He won’t return.

Josef Martinez, 1 appearance.

My prediction: He will return.

Marcelino Moreno, 6 appearances, 2 goals, 1 assist, 0.38 expected goals per 90 minutes, 0.11 expected assists per 90 minutes.

My prediction: He will return.

Erick Torres, 13 appearances, 1 goal, 0.47 expected goals per 90 minutes. He was signed as a season-ending injury replacement for Martinez. As such, his contract is supposed to end at season’s end. He could be the valuable back-up striker, or second striker, that the team didn’t have at the beginning of this season. But it seems unlikely that he will return because it’s doubtful that the team will want to pay what he will likely want and that he will want to return to a team for which he may not play a lot.

My prediction: He won’t return.

JJ Williams, 1 appearance and then went on loan to Atlanta United 2 and then Birmingham.

My prediction: He won’t return.

Tyler Wolff, 5 appearances.

My prediction: He will return.

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