New decade, new team: A summary of Atlanta United FC’s offseason

Atlanta United FC wrapped up 2019 with a heartbreaking 1-2 loss to Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Final. 

The season got off to a rough start with new head coach Frank de Boer implementing a new and somewhat controversial playing style. 

However, a late resurgence offensively and the nifty signing of valuable positional players like Justin Meram saw the team get back to the frightening and fast-paced offense that won the MLS Cup in 2018.

Unlike the NFL or NBA, players in the MLS enjoy only a few weeks off each year as the season runs from early March into December, with training picking up shortly after the New Year. 

The significance of a short offseason is that there is less time for each team to assess its weaknesses and, more importantly, make new additions. Atlanta started their offseason somewhat quietly until recently, when there was an explosion in both signings and transfers. 

For starters, let us look at those who won’t be seeing the pitch for Atlanta in 2020. Winger Justin Meram, midfielders Julian Gressel and Darlington Nagbe, center back Michael Parkhurst and defensive back Leandro González Pirez will all be playing elsewhere in 2020. 

It is common for any team in sports to lose players during the offseason, but in Atlanta’s case, the players they lost weren’t merely substitutes or benchwarmers. 

Atlanta United reporter Joe Patrick could not stress the significance of the players who left this offseason enough. 

“It’s certainly going to be a stark change for Atlanta United,” Patrick said when assessing the losses of Gressel and González Pirez. “It’s a lot of experience you lose.”

Beyond both Gressel and González Pirez, Atlanta also lost their always-reliable midfielder in Nagbe to the Columbus Crew as the Ohio native wanted a closer-to-home fit. 

“It’s absolutely huge, bigger than any player in my opinion,” Patrick said when evaluating the loss of Nagbe. “What he did for the team is almost something you can’t just find in another player. His ability to receive the ball in tight spaces and then turn into open space made the team press-resistant.”

Although Atlanta will miss the talent that has left the squad, there is still plenty to look forward to as the club has signed a handful of players that are expected to contribute significantly. 

Most notably, Atlanta signed Argentinian native Fernando Meza from Club Tijuana. The 29-year-old center back most recently played in Mexico for Club Necaxa. Meza will most likely start right away for Atlanta, which needs a quality defender.

Atlanta also picked up Anton Walkes (who was previously with the team in 2017), Edgar Castillo and Brooks Lennon. The team now faces another hefty challenge in filling the gap that Gressel once occupied. 

Gressel had thriving chemistry with Atlanta’s lead scorer Josef Martinez that saw the two connect for a myriad of goals throughout the last three seasons. Without Gressel, Atlanta will need to rely on smart passing and a scheme that complements their best playmakers in Martinez, Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez. 

With the 2020 season kicking off on Feb. 29 in Nashville, Atlanta will need to work quickly to both bring in new talent and fill the gaps offensively that have opened up with the departure of both Gressel and Nagbe.