Three months or so after the Sounders defeated Toronto at Century Link Field to win their second-ever MLS Cup, the new league season is just days away from kicking off for the 2020 season. Atlanta have had a short but illustrious history in the league with this set to be Frank de Boer’s second season in charge, let’s hope it’s a good one.
Nashville lies in wake for Atlanta on the opening day with the second leg of the CCL clash against Motagua preceding this. This will be the Tennessee-based side’s debut season in the league as they, alongside Inter Miami, join as a 2020 expansion side.
It seems fair to say that Atlanta have had an indifferent off-season with the squad turnover being almost worrisome. Several key names have departed for pastures new ahead of the new campaign so it remains to be seen how the squad will fare. Captain Michael Parkhurst has announced his retirement at the age of 36 following an illustrious career. Parky was an ever-present from minute one with him making 86 appearances during his time at the Benz, leaving a large hole in central defence.
He’s not the only defender to leave either with Leandro Gonzalez Pirez swapping the States for Mexico in the form of Liga MX’s Club Tijuana. The Argentinian was renowned for the odd rash decision in and amongst dominant defensive displays.
The backline isn’t the only weakened area with a few excellent midfield stars making domestic moves. DC United’s business has been some of the very best in the league with the likes of Ola Kamara and Edison Flores being added to Ben Olsen’s arsenal. Another of which is the German-born Julian Gressel, the top assister in Atlanta’s history. Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez were a superb duo with their linkup being on a different wavelength to most others in the league, so when the former left for Newcastle, the relationship went into disrepute.
Gressel filled this void with relative ease though and he quickly showed that he was far and away the best crosser of a ball in the whole division. His versatility shouldn’t be overlooked too, he was deployed in several different positions all over the pitch and was able to adapt every time. DC have got a real player on their hands there and the same can be said for Columbus Crew. Darlington Nagbe will be donning the black and yellow next season after a couple of successful years in Georgia. He played over 200 games for the Timbers where he won his first MLS Cup and this was added to in 2018 when he beat his former club at the Benz in front of over 70,000 people. His wealth of experience along with his energy in midfield would make him a great asset for any MLS outfit, please take good care of him Columbus.
Other notable departures include Justin Meram, Brandon Vazquez, Florentin Pogba and Brek Shea. All of these outgoings need to be met by new arrivals and that is of course the case. During last season we saw Mo Adams and Brooks Lennon come in from the Fire and RSL respectively. Also, Emerson Hyndman was on loan from Premier League Bournemouth, a move that has now been made permanent for an undisclosed fee. Alongside the 23-year-old, fullback Anton Walkes has come in the door from the South Coast in the form of League One Portsmouth.
Whilst LGP departed for South America, there were also players that went the other way. One of which being Manuel Castro who joins on loan from Argentina’s Estudiantes. The 24-year-old is added to the Five Stripes’ roster with over 100 appearances under his belt across Argentina and Uruguay, his home country. He will be at the club until the end of June with an option to extend this to the end of the calendar year.
Also coming in from the neighbours to the South is Brazilian midfielder Matheus Rossetto. The TAM signing joins from Atletico Paranaense and will, like Castro, occupy an international roster slot. The 23-year-old joined the Brazilian side’s academy in 2009 and has remained with the club up until his move to the States. He brings with him Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana experience as well as over 70 league appearances yet he is still a few years away from his peak, so he arrives in Georgia with a real element of promise. Fernando Meza from Necaxa in Mexico and fullback Edgar Castillo from the Revs are amongst the other new introductions.
There has been a rather prevalent amount of ins and outs but that isn’t with a complete absence of continuity. The record breaking man in front of goal Josef Martinez has remained in the red and black along with his namesake that joined from River Plate last year off the back of Copa Libertadores glory. Pity was touted to be one of the standout stars last season but didn’t quite live up to the pricetag, although I believe him to have been harshly treated. He took a while to adapt but once he did he looked very dangerous and creatively astute, the money spent on him still being a stick to constantly beat him with no matter what.
USMNT shot-stopper Brad Guzan has signed a new contract to remain at the Benz for another few years and breakout teenage sensation Miles Robinson looks set to stay put in the heart of the Five Stripes’ defence. Rumours have been swirling for months linking the highly rated Tito Villalba with a move away from the club whilst Ezequiel Barco is still yet to take his opportunity in ATL by the scruff of the neck and become one of the stars of the league. The young Argentine has shown that the talent is definitely there but for whatever reason, a lack of consistency has kept him from fulfilling his role as one of the young heroes of the MLS, he is still just 20 though mind you.
In terms of the fierce competition for the MLS Cup this year, there are some very strong sides. LA Galaxy acquiring the services of Chicharito will strike fear into the hearts of backlines across the nation. The thought of him linking up with someone like Christian Pavon is a very scary one! LAFC will be looking to build on last season’s Eastern Conference success with Bradley Wright-Phillips coming in the door whilst Walker Zimmerman and Lee Nguyen are amongst the outgoings.
Last year saw Toronto face Seattle in MLS Cup and the former have added Espanyol’s Pablo Piatti to their ranks, the Spaniard could create a dangerous partnership with his fellow countryman Alejandro Pozuelo. As previously mentioned, DC United’s business has them as a bit of an outside bet for success. Meanwhile, FC Dallas could be a dark horse if the likes of Jesus Ferreira and Paxton Pomykal can continue to take leaps and bounds forward. The Red Bulls having lost BWP are surely out of the picture but their city rivals can definitely challenge at the top with their CCL first leg win over San Carlos away from home hopefully be a representative sign of what is in store.
I would be lying if I said I was optimistic for this season, especially considering what it has to be compared too. An MLS Cup winning season being followed up with US Open Cup and Campeones Cup glory sets this campaign up for some very high standards, which I can’t see being met. Miggy was an unknown quantity when he joined the club so it’s hard to be too sure of yourself either way but the transfer business feels rather underwhelming thus far, especially when you consider the departures. Gressel’s vast skill range will be a huge miss as will Parky’s experience and captaincy. However, it can’t all be doom and gloom if you have a possible front line of Josef, Pity and Barco. If this trio are all on form which you can bet that at least Josef will be, any defence will be worried to face the mighty Five Stripes!