October 30, 2019 Atlanta: Toronto FC midfielder Nick DeLeon takes the ball away from Atlanta United midfielder Julian Gressel (right) and scores the winning goal for a 2-1 victory in the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday, October 30, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Atlanta United hopes to sign 3-4 players of quality

Atlanta United Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra said Thursday that the MLS team expects to sign soon as many as four players who possess the quality to start for the team.

Bocanegra declined to name the players, but said one will be a left fullback who will compete with George Bello. Another will be a midfielder who is expected to compete at former player Darlington Nagbe’s spot in central midfield. Nagbe was traded to Columbus following the 2019 season. 

Atlanta United opens training camp Monday.

“All the players we are bringing in we feel that they will be ready to go for Champions League,” Bocanegra said. “It’s an important competition for us.

“One of our goals was to get these guys in and get them ready for Frank (de Boer) for one day. We are a tad bit behind for various reasons. They will hit the ground running and ready for Champions League for sure.”

The team has been linked to two players from Paraguay who play those positions. Bocanegra declined to comment on the reports, as well as those on interest in an Argentine centerback who plays in Mexico and a young midfielder from Uruguay. However, Bocanegra said Atlanta United is operating as if it is under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement (a new one is being negotiated), which means that the combined price tag of $7 million for the two Paraguayans would likely push them out of possibility.

Bocanegra also declined to comment on an AJC report that centerback Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was sold to Tijuana in Mexico. 

Bocanegra did have plenty to say, though:

  • The team is having internal discussions about Julian Gressel and expects that he will report to training camp Monday. Gressel has been invaluable with 15 goals and 35 assists the past three seasons. He would like a new contract.
  • Midfielders Pity Martinez, who had five goals and nine assists last season, and Ezequiel Barco, who had four goals and three assists, are expected to remain with Atlanta United. Martinez was a reported target for Gremio in Brazil. Barco is of interest to several teams in Europe.
  • With the exception of Jeff Larentowicz, who underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his knee in the offseason, the players under contract are healthy;
  • The club hasn’t selected a captain to replace Michael Parkhurst;
  • The short preseason trip to Guadalajara, Mexico is being done to simulate a trip in the Champions League. The team will play Motagua in Honduras on Feb. 18 in its opening game of this year’s tournament. Should the team advance in the two-legged series, its opponent in the next round is likely Club America, which plays in Mexico City.
  • The club will close the application process for its goalkeeper coach and hopes to make that hire soon. Aron Hyde left to join the U.S. men’s national team. Bocanegra said it was too good of an opportunity for Hyde to pass on.

“The potential to go to the World Cup is a big dream for everybody,” Bocanegra said.

Atlanta United selected Michigan State centerback Patrick Nielsen in Thursday’s draft, and announced the signing of Anton Walkes, who spent 2017 with the club while on loan from Tottenham Hotspur.

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