Atlanta United’s Garth Lagerwey understands supporters’ frustrations

Team is planning to honor Josef Martinez at some point

Atlanta United President Garth Lagerwey said Thursday he understands the frustration and disappointment expressed by some of the MLS team’s supporters on social media following Wednesday’s buyout of the contract of standout striker Josef Martinez, who then signed with Miami. Lagerwey said that pro sports can be tough.

He was reminded that several Atlanta sports legends didn’t finish with the teams with which they became famous: Dominique Wilkins, Dale Murphy, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Matt Ryan, to name a few. Lagerwey notes that resets, which is what Atlanta United is undergoing because it has missed the playoffs two of the past three seasons, can be painful.

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“Is it sad because it’s over?” Lagerwey said. “Yeah, but you’re sad because of all the high points, all the happiness, all the great moments that we shared, and then United shared with our fans and with Josef Martinez and credit to him. But I think we’re all kind of missing the forest for the trees if we don’t see the Josef Martinez era here is a really positive, really happy one. Even if the ending is almost always tricky.”

Lagerwey said the franchise plans to honor Martinez when Miami plays at Atlanta United. The first league game between the teams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is scheduled for Sept. 16. The draw for the Leagues Cup, a tournament featuring all the teams from MLS and LIGA MX, has yet to be announced. It is possible that the teams could be matched up in that, but the site may be in Florida. Lagerwey and Miami Sporting Director Chris Henderson worked together in Seattle for years. Lagerwey said when the two were at Seattle they had similar ceremonies for players who left, including Chad Marshall and current Atlanta United player Ozzie Alonso.

“I have no doubt that we’ll have a partner in them in terms of doing everything the right way,” Lagerwey said. “And really trying to work together on something that’s suitable and fitting.”

Of course, another way to placate supporters is to announce new signings, particularly a goal scorer. Martinez scored 111 goals for the Five Stripes in leading them to three trophies. Manager Gonzalo Pineda said Tuesday that the team was pushing to acquire three players. He didn’t say at what positions.

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Lagerwey wouldn’t confirm the positions but did say that Vice President Carlos Bocanegra was right Wednesday when he said the team would have more than one striker on the roster. Lagerwey said it’s critically important that the signings come at the proper value and at the right time rather than to have a player in place by opening day.

“The thing that gets you in the salary-cap system is making mistakes,” he said.

The team has moved more than $6 million in salaries in the past few weeks with the buyout of Martinez, the sales of Alan Franco and George Campbell, the loan of Marcelino Moreno and the termination of Emerson Hyndman’s contract. Lagerwey said one more subtraction likely will come. He wouldn’t say who, but it’s reasonable to think that it will be Erik Lopez, who spent last season on loan and occupies one of the team’s Under-22 Initiative slots. The team has four U22s on its roster. They are allowed only three. The other U22s, Santiago Sosa, Franco Ibarra and Edwin Mosquera, played for the team last season and are at its preseason camp. Lopez didn’t play last season and isn’t with the team in camp.

Lagerwey said the team still is making room under its salary cap and said a player on loan may receive the Designated Player tag, which would clear their full cap hit. The team has two players on loan, Moreno, who is with Coritiba in Brazil, and Ezequiel Barco, who is in his second season on loan with River Plate in Argentina.

Lagerwey said the team is looking to fill the three positions, particularly at striker, with players who have the potential to become a DP. Martinez arrived on loan from Torino as a DP before he was permanently transferred a few weeks later. Lagerwey said supporters shouldn’t expect the next Martinez, who scored 100 goals faster than anyone in MLS history.

Lagerwey said one of the strengths of the team is the trio of Thiago Almada, Luiz Araujo and Derrick Etienne, who signed as a free agent. He said the new striker may be one whose skills will help combine with those three.

“Where the collective kind of becomes more than the sum of its parts,” he said. “And so that’s one of the things that we’re looking at as well.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 7:30 p.m.

March 4 vs. Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.

March 11 at Charlotte FC, noon, Fox

March 18 vs. Portland Timbers, 7:30 p.m.

March 25 at Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

April 1 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

April 8 at New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 15 at Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 23 vs. Chicago Fire FC, 4:30 p.m., FS1

April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox

May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.

May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.

May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.

May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.

May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1

June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.

June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox

July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.

July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1

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