Atlanta United looked to build roster balance and set it up for future

Georgia's Saba Lobjanidze, right, fights for the ball with Norway's Birger Meling during the Euro 2024 group A qualifying soccer match between Georgia and Norway at the AdjaraBet Arena in Batumi, Georgia, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Zurab Tsertsvadze)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia's Saba Lobjanidze, right, fights for the ball with Norway's Birger Meling during the Euro 2024 group A qualifying soccer match between Georgia and Norway at the AdjaraBet Arena in Batumi, Georgia, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Zurab Tsertsvadze)

Before the MLS transfer window opened in July, Atlanta United Vice President Carlos Bocanegra said that some curious moves recently made by the club would make more sense after it acquired players over the next weeks.

The goal, which Bocanegra said was accomplished after a worldwide search helped by two scouting partners, was about helping improve a roster that had too few wingers and needed to balance the offense and defense. One move should help the club on the field and may also help set it up to keep arguably its most important player.

The transfer window closed Wednesday. Four players came in, three possibly starters. In soccer finances, nothing was spent upfront in acquiring Tristan Muyumba, Jamal Thiare, and Xande Silva. Purchasing the rights to Saba Lobjanidze cost less than what the team took in on the sale of Luiz Araujo to Flamengo earlier in the window.

Also important, Lobjanidze being an “accounting Designated Player,” one whose contract can be bought down in the offseason, keeps a full DP spot for Thiago Almada to move into, should he choose to stay with the club long term. Almada currently is classified as a Young DP, but will phase out of that classification after the 2024 season. Should Almada want to leave, and the team receives an offer good enough to induce it to sale, it then would be able to utilize that open spot to replace him with anyone. There would be no age or salary restriction on who the team can sign.

Four moved out, three starters, one of those on loan. Those were the sale of Araujo, trade of Andrew Gutman and loan of Franco Ibarra, which happened at the beginning of the window, and sale of Marcelino Moreno, which was finalized Thursday.

“We’re able to now have a group that we feel has good balance. We have good competition at positions around the field, and really help stabilize for the back half of the year and beyond,” Bocanegra said.

Lobjanidze and Silva may become starters on the wings, which will allow manager Gonzalo Pineda to move Caleb Wiley and Brooks Lennon from playing as either wings or wingbacks, which they were doing because there has been a lack of production at those spots, back to their natural positions as fullbacks.

The team also has gotten Miles Robinson back after he spent weeks with the U.S. men’s national team and the experience gained by Luis Abram, who filled in at centerback.

Enabling those moves while also adding Muyumba as a central midfielder are why the team didn’t add any centerbacks or fullbacks during the window.

The hope is that it will tighten a defense that has given up the second-most (39) goals in MLS through 24 matches.

“We feel pretty good about how the roster is constructed with the balance and to be able to go forward,” Bocanegra said. “So that’s what I was talking about with the whole plan coming together.”

The team didn’t intentionally go value shopping in one league, but three of the new signings came from Ligue 2 in France. That is another difference from past windows, where the team consistently has dipped into Argentina’s first division to find players.

The team’s new partners, SRC FTBL and StatsBomb, played a part in helping the team’s scouts and data scientist find the balance. In broad terms, the scouting process happens with the team and its partners comparing notes on players of interest. If players on the lists match, it’s a sign that the next step of contacting the player’s team may be taken by Atlanta United.

“It’s just getting more information and more data points,” Bocanegra said. “It was great.”

Another change and ingredient in the plan to build balance was this being President Garth Lagerwey’s first summer window in charge of the club. Lagerwey developed a reputation as an adept wheeler-and-dealer when he was the general manager of Seattle from 2015-22. His moves helped the club win two MLS Cups and the Champions League.

Bocanegra said Lagerwey supported the group tasked with finding and signing players.

“He’s obviously knowledgeable about the league and the rules and how trades operate and things like that,” Bocanegra said. “So I think it’s good to have another soccer brain in the front office, which is great. And so we can use him utilize him as a resource.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1

March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1

March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0

March 18 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1

March 25 Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1

April 1 Atlanta United 1, New York Red Bulls 0

April 8 Atlanta United 1, New York City FC 1

April 15 Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2

April 23 Atlanta United 2, Chicago 1

April 29 Nashville SC 3, Atlanta United 1

May 6 Inter Miami CF 2, Atlanta United 1

May 13 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 1

May 17 Atlanta United 4, Colorado 0

May 20 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 3

May 27 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

May 31 Atlanta United 3, New England 3

June 7 Atlanta United 0, LAFC 0

June 10 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 1

June 21 Atlanta United 2, New York City 2

June 24 New York Red Bulls 4, Atlanta United 0

July 2 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 0

July 8 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

July 12 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

July 15 Orlando City 2, Atlanta United 1

July 25 Miami 4, Atlanta United 0 in Leagues Cup

July 29 Cruz Azul 1 (5), Atlanta United (4) 1 in Leagues Cup

Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA