Atlanta United should benefit from offseason together

Atlanta United midfielder Marcelino Moreno (10) battles for the ball against New York City FC midfielder Tony Rocha, top left, and midfielder James Sands (16) during the second half of an MLS soccer match at Yankee Stadium, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Caption
Atlanta United midfielder Marcelino Moreno (10) battles for the ball against New York City FC midfielder Tony Rocha, top left, and midfielder James Sands (16) during the second half of an MLS soccer match at Yankee Stadium, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Credit: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

Credit: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

Despite losing 2-0 to NYCFC in the first round of the MLS playoffs, Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda and two key players believe that, with the benefit of a few changes and time, the team will be better next season.

The team went 7-3-3 under Pineda when he took over for the fired Gabriel Heinze near the end of August. It finished as the fifth seed in the East. If not for dropping points in several games, it could have finished as high as second.

Pineda said he likes the roster’s current construction, which has the highest transfer value in MLS ($79.34 million), according to transfermarkt.us. There may be changes. Fullback George Bello is of interest to unnamed clubs in Europe. Ezequiel Barco and Miles Robinson may also be sold.

“Of course, you always would like to change a few things and there might be some that come naturally,” he said. “There are always moving parts in the offseason. But we will try to analyze and evaluate all the players in a fair way and the cohesion of the team in general and see what we can do better.”

Moves should start happening soon.

Atlanta United has until Nov. 30 to submit offers to players who are under contracts with options. Four players, fullback Brooks Lennon and Mikey Ambrose, goalkeeper Alec Kann and striker Erick Torres, are those players.

The trade window opens and closes Dec. 12. The expansion draft is scheduled for Dec. 14. Atlanta United may have a player selected by Charlotte. Free-agency signing period starts Dec. 15.

Atlanta United Vice President Carlos Bocanegra said last week that the team will attempt to add as many as two veterans. The club was one of the youngest squads in MLS, with an average players’ age of 25.1 years old.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan said adding veterans will help improve the team in many areas. Atlanta United won three trophies, partially because of the leadership and performances of experienced players Michael Parkhurst, Darlington Nagbe, Jeff Larentowicz and Guzan, among others, in 2018 and ‘19.

That experience was missing this season and was noticeable in Sunday’s loss at NYCFC.

“You look back at the year we were successful, you look at other successful MLS teams around the league and there seems to be a common denominator of MLS experience, MLS guys that understand what games are all about, understand what it takes to win postseason games,” Guzan said.

While experience is one key, developing chemistry may be another.

The quartet of Josef Martinez, Barco, Marcelino Moreno and Luiz Araujo, who comprise almost half of the team’s transfer value, could never seem figure out how to get the best out of each other this season, partially because they weren’t in the same starting lineup too often.

It took until Aug. 5 for any of the trio of Martinez, Barco and Moreno to combine with an assist and goal. Part of the reason were injuries or international duty. All three started together just three of those first 21 games.

Araujo’s first game was Aug. 18. The quartet started five of the final 15 games.

For the season, the quartet finished with an assist and goal on 10 of the team’s 45 goals scored. They combined to score 32 of those 45 goals.

With more experience playing together, the moments of individual brilliance may be supported by more of an understanding of a teammate’s tendencies and tactics wanted by the manager. The result may be a more cohesive and effective offense.

“There needs to be more of an attacking edge consistently,” Guzan said. “And on both sides of the ball. Defensively and attacking-wise we can certainly get better in all areas of the field. But understanding how to consistently attack and put teams under real pressure home or away.”

An offseason and full training camp under Pineda should benefit the squad, according to Lennon. Training camp should open in either late January or early February. The team’s first game in 2022 will be against Sporting KC on Feb. 27 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Definitely, the more you work with an individual, the more you get to know each other,” fullback Brooks Lennon said. “We need to build with Gonzalo and his staff. We have all the intangibles, we just need to get together and play together as a team and spend a whole offseason together. Going into next year, we will have a good opportunity to be a good team.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 vs. Sporting KC, 3 p.m.

March 5 at Colorado, 6 p.m.

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