Last year, Atlanta United, in only its second MLS season, was crowned champions after defeating the Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup final in Atlanta. Josef Martinez won MLS Cup MVP, after winning the Golden boot and MLS regular season MVP. Looking forward, the team gears up for another season, hoping to repeat as MLS champions and add a CONCACAF Champions League win to their resume. Atlanta United will play their first CONCACAF game on February 21st against Herediano, a Costa Rican club.
However, the team’s number 10 and former captain, Miguel Almirón, signed a 24 million dollar transfer to join English side Newcastle, the largest player transfer in MLS history. With the loss of Almirón, Atlanta had enough cap space to sign South American player of the year Pity Martinez from River Plate, a prestigious Argentinian club. Martinez has excited many Atlanta United fans with his quick style of play and powerful shots and free kicks. He will replace Almirón with the number 10 jersey, and will hope to reach the same level of production as the 2-time MLS all-star.
“Yeah, I was really sad to hear the news about Miggy,” said junior Matt Hoffman. “He was my favorite player on the team, and I honestly thought Martinez was going to leave before him, since there were so many more transfer rumors concerning Josef. But, I’m really looking forward to seeing Pity Martinez in action. The Martinez boys are about to light up the pitch this year.”
Atlanta United also lost their head coach, Tata Martino, in the offseason. Martino took the head coaching position for the Mexican national team. He is replaced by new head coach Frank de Boer, a former player and coach for Ajax, a consistently strong Dutch side, and more recently, English premier league side Crystal Palace FC.
“I like the new Coach, de Boer,” said junior Kerrie Lou. “I think he’s going to be a really good fit for the team, and hopefully can have just as much success as Martino. I really like Brek Shea too. His hair is sweet.”
Along with Pity Martinez, Atlanta also signed the aforementioned Brek Shea from Orlando City SC, and Florentin Pogba, brother of Paul Pogba, on a free transfer. Pogba looks to step in and contribute on the defensive side of the ball. Atlanta United lost former captain and left back Greg Garza to the new MLS club FC Cincinnati, while they released Chris McCann, another defender. Pogba will add much needed depth at the defender position along with Shea, fortifying the defenses for the returning champions.
Atlanta United also looks to incorporate some younger talent into the roster, and even some homegrown players, raised and trained in Atlanta.
“I’m really looking forward to watching some of the younger guys out there on the pitch,” said sophomore Aidan Henry. “Guys like Andrew Carleton and George Bello grew up right here in Atlanta, playing on the same fields and against the same teams as I did. It’s crazy there are guys my age competing at a professional level already.”
Carleton, a 19-year-old from Powder Springs, Georgia, signed his first professional deal at the age of 16, and has already made an impact for Atlanta United’s first and second teams. George Bello, from Douglasville, Georgia, was just 16 years old when he made his first professional start last year, and scored his first professional goal. Bello will be a starter in Atlanta United’s first game on February 21 at the left midfielder position, hoping to build off of last year’s success.
The returning MLS champions made many big moves in the offseason that could make or break their upcoming season. The loss of a star led to the rise of a possible new sensation, while a coaching change could actually be a positive for the revamped squad.
“It really was a pretty crazy offseason,” said Henry. “I really didn’t expect them to make this many moves, considering they were already a championship caliber team. But, hey, I still think Atlanta United is the best team in the MLS. Let’s see who can stop them.”
Atlanta United is a very different team than they were last year, with multiple additions and losses at critical positions in the organization and team. But the one question still remains, can anyone in the MLS truly stop them? Only time will tell, as the squad gears up for a new season of spectacular goals, wonderous assists, nail-biter games, and possibly, many more trophy ceremonies.