Atlanta United plans to be active in transfer market and free agency

Atlanta United Vice President Carlos Bocanegra said Monday that he feels good about the team’s salary-cap flexibility heading into an important offseason.

“We didn’t completely leverage ourselves in the summer by maybe making deals that would have crippled us for this year,” he said. “So we feel good about where we are. And we hope to be active in the transfer market this fall.”

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The team has 31 players under contract after declining different options on seven players and possibly losing another, midfielder Amar Sejdic. MLS rules allow teams to have 30 players under contract. The club has until the day before next season’s first game to become roster compliant. It likely will loan several players, including a few of its Homegrown signees, so that they can gain experience.

Bocanegra didn’t want to give too many clues as to what positions the team will look to strengthen, but did say it will attempt to sign a goalkeeper to compete with Brad Guzan, who is coming back from an Achilles rupture, and a striker because Josef Martinez’s future with the club isn’t clear. Free agency opens Wednesday.

“That’s where we are. I don’t foresee anything happening with Josef, or any of our players in general, too quickly, just with the World Cup breaking,” Bocanegra said. “I don’t know around the world kind of what is going on, and this is going to be an interesting time for all of us in general. So that’s across the board on all players.”

The club has two goalkeepers, Guzan and Homegrown signee Justin Garces, who spent the season with Atlanta United 2. There are some interesting players available for free agency, including Lilburn’s Sean Johnson, who is with the U.S. team in Qatar for the World Cup. Also available for free agency are Cody Cropper, who was released by Vancouver and has ties to Atlanta, and former D.C. United stopper Bill Hamid, who would be an unlikely target because of past issues between him and Guzan. Johnson, 33, had a guaranteed salary of $500,000, according to the Major League Soccer Players Association salary database. Hamid, 31, had a salary of $700,000 and Cropper, 29, $84,000 as of Sept. 2. Alex Bono and Quentin Westberg also are available.

“He (Guzan) understands that we’ve got to go out there and try to do a job, and we’ve got to bring in another goalkeeper that potentially challenges him and displaces him, but also pushes him and adds to our group,” Bocanegra said. “So he’s very aware of the situation. He’s a veteran. He’s been around plenty of clubs and understands how this business works.”

The club has a few strikers on the roster, led by Martinez, but lacks a difference-maker if he is traded or transferred. Included in that group are Dom Dwyer, who scored four goals, Jackson Conway and possibly Erik Lopez, who spent last season on loan to a club in Argentina. The team is trying to bring back Ronaldo Cisneros, who scored seven goals last season while on loan from Chivas in LIGA MX. The purchase option was too expensive for Cisneros, according to Bocanegra.

Among the interesting MLS possibilities available are Gyasi Zardes, Ola Kamara, Tesho Akindele and Lucas Cavallini. Zardes, 31, has scored 97 goals in 267 regular-season appearances. He is a former U.S. international. He had a guaranteed salary of $1.55 million last season. Atlanta United wouldn’t pay him that much. Kamara, 33, has scored 83 goals in 175 appearances. He had a guaranteed salary of $1.52 million. Both are tall, rangy strikers. Akindele, 30, has scored 43 goals in 237 appearances. He had a guaranteed salary of $340,000. Cavallini, 29, has scored 18 goals in 63 appearances in MLS. He had a guaranteed salary of $1,462,500 last season. He doesn’t yet qualify for free agency.

The team could use a difference-maker in central midfield in support of Thiago Almada. Of the current group, many have very similar skills.

Among others available in free agency are former Atlanta United players Franco Escobar, Eric Remedi and Brek Shea.

Bocanegra said the club hasn’t received any official requests for any of its players.

The transfer window will open in January. It will be the first without President Darren Eales, who left in August to become CEO of Newcastle in England’s Premier League. A new president has yet to be hired. Bocanegra said he had no updates on the search.

Bocanegra said he is having conversations with Steve Cannon, the interim president, about the roster and potential moves.

“With the plan, we’re pressure-tested, we have our group, (manager) Gonzalo (Pineda) in there as well, obviously, and then we’ve got to go out and make some moves,” Bocanegra said. “And so nothing on my end has changed on that. But it’s just making sure we keep people in the loop and keeping up to date. And like I said, we’re hoping to be active in this transfer market pretty soon.”

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