Atlanta United makes roster changes with title in mind

Atlanta United began re-tooling its roster for the 2018 season just a few weeks after its inaugural season ended with a penalty shootout loss to Columbus at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Atlanta United scored the second-most goals in MLS (70), had the second-largest goal difference (plus-30) and set numerous attendance records. All this despite not having a dedicated place to train during the preseason, switching homes from Bobby Dodd Stadium to Mercedes-Benz Stadium about two-thirds into the season, and having a schedule that featured several stretches of no games, or lots of games crammed into a few days.

While losing in the first round of the playoffs still hurts, Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra said it shouldn’t tarnish everything the franchise accomplished. Still, he said there are more goals the team wants to achieve.

“It’s about bringing championships back to the city,” Bocanegra said.

To that end, the team announced several roster moves on Monday that are designed to eventually create more depth and competition to try to win the MLS Cup.

Other than Bocanegra saying there are no updates on midfielder Yamil Asad and defenders Greg Garza and Anton Walkes, who were with Atlanta United on loan, he said no decision has yet been made on midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, whose flexibility to play as a holding midfielder or centerback proved invaluable. Bocanegra said there’s no truth to the team holding back announcing that it has agreed to terms on a transfer for Asad or Garza until after the expansion draft is held on Dec. 12.

Asad and Garza were pivotal in Atlanta United’s pressing system because of their ability to get up and down the left side of the field. Asad scored seven goals with 13 assists in 32 appearances. Garza, an All-Star, scored two goals with five assists in 26 appearances.

“We don’t have a timeline,” Bocanegra said.

The club picked up options on midfielder Julian Gressel, who was named the MLS Rookie of the Year, goalkeeper Alec Kann, a Decatur native who started the season’s first 18 games, fullback Mikey Ambrose, who had seven appearances, midfielder Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu and striker Romario Williams, who spent the season on loan at Charleston.

The club has contracts with goalkeeper Brad Guzan, defenders Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Miles Robinson, midfielders Miguel Almiron, who was named the MLS Newcomer of the Year on Monday, Andrew Carleton, Carlos Carmona, Chris Goslin, Kevin Kratz and Chris McCann and forwards Josef Martinez, Jacob Peterson, Brandon Vazquez and Hector Villalba. Additionally, it will add Homegrown signings George Bello, Lagos Kunga and Patrick Okonwo, bringing the number of players under contract to 22. MLS rosters allowed for 30 players in 2017.

The club declined the options on striker Kenwyne Jones, a veteran who offered good leadership, according to Bocanegra, but who didn't get to play enough. The 33-year-old made five starts and 12 more appearances, scoring two goals. Jones had guaranteed compensation of $413,333.33 in the 2017 season, according to the MLS Players Union. It was the third-highest salary on the team among those who aren't Designated Players.

The club also declined the options on fullbacks Ty Mears and Mark Bloom, a Marietta native, defender Zach Loyd, goalkeeper Alex Tambakis, the team’s first announced signing, midfielder Jeffrey Otoo, who spent the season on loan in Charleston, and midfielder Harrison Heath, who made one appearance. Coincidentally, Tambakis, Jones and Otoo were signed before manager Gerardo Martino was hired.

“Looking forward to getting stronger, starting off next year, and making a deeper playoff run next year,” Bocanegra said.