How Atlanta United’s winter targets will strengthen the team

Atlanta United looks to make crucial winter signings to strengthen the team for the upcoming season. Photo by Harry Wyman | The Signal

With the January transfer window opening, clubs worldwide can sign players and strengthen their squads. In America, this means two months until the new season and an opportunity to prepare for what’s to come. 

Atlanta United finished the year strong with a powerful surge to clinch a spot in the playoffs but fell short to the eventual champions New York City FC in the first round. The Five Stripes will look to build on that success heading into this season. With head coach Gonzalo Pineda capable of getting the best out of his players, it is vital to strengthen their core to make a deep run in the playoffs. 

Atlanta’s biggest concern will be replacing Eziquiel Barco. The 22-year-old Argentine looks to seek a better opportunity with clubs all over Europe interested in his talents. 

While he hadn’t set the MLS on fire, he will be a challenge for this team to replace. Thiago Almada will sign with Atlanta at the end of the window. 

“An agreement was reached with Major League Soccer for the definitive transfer of the federative rights of Thiago Almada to Atlanta United FC,” Almada’s current club, Velez Sarsfield, announced publicly on December 3, “The deal is worth US$16,000,000. The agreement will go into effect at the beginning of February 2022.”

The 20-year-old is almost a direct replacement for Barco, playing in the same positions and excelling at the same things. Almada averages .43 expected goals/assists per 90,  just losing out to Barco’s .48 at the same age (stats per brief). 

Almada also boasts an impressive injury record as he is yet to miss a game because of an injury in his three-year tenure playing in the top Argentinian league. Barco’s injuries have kept him out during crucial games in their playoff runs over the years.

Atlanta’s other primary concern is finding a backup to Josef Martinez. When he’s healthy, the Venezuelan striker is one of the best in the league, but it is apparent how much Atlanta relies on him following an ACL tear. 

Martinez only appeared in 24 of the 36 games Atlanta played in, yet scored over a quarter of their goals. 

If Atlanta United wants a serious shot for the trophy, they can’t depend solely on keeping Martinez fit. While still young and promising, Jackson Conway has a long way to go before becoming a true playmaker for this team.

Will Bruin of the Seattle Sounders has been linked to a move to Atlanta in recent weeks. 

“I was able to confirm that Atlanta United is one of the teams actively looking to sign Sounders forward Will Bruin,” said Niko Moreno of Football MLS on Twitter

While hardly the caliber of Josef Martinez, he could bring much-needed experience and leadership to the team. Bruin has played in the MLS for ten seasons and was a part of the 2019 championship team. 

The 32-year-old would be willing to take a backseat position for the team while still being a dependable piece off the bench when needed. Despite Martinez’s age, he accumulated .42 goals/assists per 90 last season, coming off the bench for the Sounders.

Regardless of what Atlanta United does in January, there is plenty of reason to be excited about this team. 

With one of the best defensive records in the league last season and new attacking talent coming in from the Superdraft, there’s no reason this team doesn’t at least replicate the success they had last season.