When Mercedes Benz Stadium hosts the first Atlanta United FC home game next season, the MLS franchise will be in the early stages of building a team that the city of Atlanta will embrace. With Arthur Blanc providing his financial muscle and the shared resources with the Atlanta Falcons in place, AUFC should have the structure to find success rather quickly. As their debut begins to draw closer, it is a good time to speculate on what players may be representing the colors of the Atlanta franchise.
In January, goalkeeper Alexander Tambakis became the first player signed by Atlanta. Signed from Panathinaikos in Greece, the young netminder was loaned to the USL for this season.
Blanc has already called upon Carlos Bocanegra (technical director) and Darren Eales (president) to man key positions for the club. Eales is a former front office man with Tottenham Hotspur, and Bocanegra is a former USMNT member who played in some of Europe’s top leagues. The combined experience and connections of the two should be beneficial in filling out the club’s roster, especially the international slots.
With the budding fan base of the club looking forward to the day their roster begins to fill out, let us look at some names who might make their way to Atlanta for next season. With rumors already flying including big names like Wayne Rooney (highly doubtful), the following players are pure speculation and are meant as a starting point for what could be a fascinating discussion. Please chime in with your thoughts at the end of the article.
Aaron Lennon, Midfielder, Everton
Lennon is a name that Eales is familiar with from his time with Spurs. The diminutive winger has made 21 appearances for England, but none since 2013. He brings pace on the wing along with a great deal of experience, and at 29 years old he still has a good deal to offer. His ability to beat fullbacks and get into position to deliver crosses into the box would be beneficial if AUFC are able to secure an aerial threat up front. Lennon can also break down defenses by using his speed to take space towards the center of the pitch while dribbling, or on diagonal runs.
He would give Atlanta a fairly recognizable name who is still a very good player on the pitch. Lennon is currently playing for Everton in the Premier League.
Carlos Small, Forward, FC Guria Lanchkhuti
Small’s name appeared in the rumor mill in December when former MLS player and fellow Panamanian Roberto Brown posted a tweet that Atlanta FC was looking at the young forward. How much truth there is to the rumor is yet to be determined, but eyeing up a potential move for a young (21 years old) attacking player with a good deal of upside is the kind of moves MLS clubs should be looking at.
Small is a quick, compact forward with an excellent shot. He has shown the ability to score at each level including the Panama U-20 team. He has the potential to develop into a Carlos Ruiz type attacker. A player who use quickness and strength to open up space and get into a good scoring position.
Andre Pierre-Gignac, Forward, Tigres UNAL
This is a stretch in trying to connect the dots to get Gignac to Atlanta, but as a player he would be an excellent focal point for the attack. The French forward is excellent in the air and works well as a target man. He can hold up play, and is able to finish chances in multiple ways.
Before dismissing the notion of this possibility, Gignac only recently left the comforts of Ligue 1 to play in Mexico. He has made the most of that opportunity gaining a recall to the national team. Bocanegra’s connections from his time as a player in France may also help in luring the French forward to SEC country. If Atlanta can get a player like Gignac, obtaining the services of wingers who can deliver accurate crosses will be a must.
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Oribe Peralta, Forward, Club America
Attempting to cash in on the popularity of the Mexican national team could lead to several possibilities for Atlanta. One of them could be Peralta who has been tearing it up this season for Club America. Peralta represented El Tri at the 2014 World Cup and has over 40 appearances in the national team.
Peralta’s ability as a finisher would bring an instant threat to the Atlanta attack. The hero of Mexico’s 2012 Olympic gold, Peralta has dealt with high expectations from early on in his career. After several seasons where he seemed destined to be forgotten, Peralta has regained his status as a top level player and would be an exceptional (though difficult) capture by Atlanta.
Alejandro Bedoya, Midfielder, Nantes
The US national team midfielder has been plying his trade in France for the last few seasons. He was born in the United States and spent several years growing up in Florida. AUFC could provide a great opportunity to come home and play.
As an attacking midfielder, Bedoya brings technical ability and pace to the game. He can be deployed behind the forward line or out on the wing. His flexibility can help when assembling the remainder of the midfield.
These are just a few of the many possibilities as far as players AUFC may go for. Each one brings their own set of skills that can help the team make its mark. Atlanta fans, have your say and let us know who you want your club to pursue.