Atlanta United: Roster taking shape but key signings needed

ATLANTA, GA SEPTEMBER 22: Real Salt Lake's Brooks Lennon (12) looks to pass the ball during the match between Atlanta United and Real Salt Lake on September 22nd, 2018 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. Atlanta United FC defeated Real Salt Lake by a score of 2 to 0. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA SEPTEMBER 22: Real Salt Lake's Brooks Lennon (12) looks to pass the ball during the match between Atlanta United and Real Salt Lake on September 22nd, 2018 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. Atlanta United FC defeated Real Salt Lake by a score of 2 to 0. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Preseason is now underway for Atlanta United. The roster is taking shape as new signings are announced, but players are still needed at key positions.

Atlanta United officially opened their preseason camp on Monday. Nearly all players were spotted training on the first day. The lone exception was Ezequiel Barco, who arrived on Monday morning and was not seen on the pitch. Reporters on site were told Barco was at the facility and he was eventually seen training with the rest of the team on Tuesday.

Julian Gressel arrived at the training ground Monday morning amidst a messy contract negotiation and possible holdout. He participated in individual drills off to the side. Head coach Frank de Boer cited fitness issues and said Gressel would eventually rejoin the team — it should be noted that midfielder Darlington Nagbe trained off to the side last January as rumors of a trade request made its rounds. He joined the team later on in preseason and was finally traded during this offseason.

Gressel’s contract situation is hardly the only big news regarding Atlanta United’s roster, however. The team has just over 30 days until their first competitive match of the season against Motagua in the first round of the CONCACAF Champions League. After losing 15 of 30 rostered players since the season-ending defeat to Toronto FC, Atlanta have finally begun to announce new signings.

In December, Emerson Hyndman was permanently acquired from Premier League side AFC Bournemouth while Real Salt Lake defender Brooks Lennon was acquired in exchange for $300,000 in GAM and TAM. Jeff Larentowicz and Alec Kann were re-signed after running out of contract. And then, in the last week or so, Atlanta announced the signings of defenders Anton Walkes and Fernando Meza.

(Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

The roster number currently stands at 22, although that includes Jon Gallagher, whose loan with Scottish side Aberdeen was extended until May, and homegrown Andrew Carleton, who is reportedly joining USL side Indy Eleven on loan for the 2020 season. Eight open roster spots remain and de Boer listed two key areas of need during his Monday morning conference with the media: central midfield and left-back.

Atlanta have been consistently linked with two Paraguayan players over the last two weeks: Mathias Villasanti, a defensive midfielder, and Santiago Arzamendia, a left-back. Both currently play for Paraguayan club Cerro Porteno and at least one of the two seems destined to join the Five Stripes. There have been conflicting reports, but either player fills a pressing need.

There are also reports linking Atlanta with 20-year-old Uruguayan midfielder Santiago Rodriguez. According to Transfermarkt, Rodriguez can play in attacking midfield, on the wing, or as a second striker. Those positions are not in demand like central midfielder and left-back are, but it is possible the club wants him to play in central midfield or to serve a more prominent role down the road. Such versatility would also offer valuable depth.

Atlanta United would be in good shape if the team were to sign at least one of those three players. Each fits the desired profile in that they are young, talented South Americans with the potential to be sold for profit, and they will improve the team in 2020 and beyond. It is also possible that the team could sign more than one of the three, and there is a slight possibility the team could sign all three.

Two other players made an appearance at training during the week: Edgar Castillo, most recently a left-back for the New England Revolution, and Adam Jahn, a striker with USL side Phoenix Rising. Castillo is currently a free agent in MLS and has extensive experience in both MLS and Liga MX. His age (33 years old) indicates that this signing is merely one for squad depth. For the time being, 17-year-old homegrown George Bello is expected to play left-back. However, Castillo can serve as a mentor for Bello while also supplying depth when needed. Castillo can also bring much-needed experience for the team as they prepare for the CCL.

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Jahn also has MLS experience, most recently featuring for the Columbus Crew from 2016-18. In fact, Jahn scored the winning penalty in a penalty shootout between Atlanta and Columbus in 2017 that saw Columbus advance to the Eastern Conference Semi-Final, ending Atlanta’s inaugural season come to an end. Jahn is a forward and, if signed, could provide depth and experience, much like Castillo.

These trials for players with MLS and CCL experience show that Atlanta are beginning to fill out the back end of their roster. If Castillo and Jahn sign, there will be 24 players listed on the Atlanta roster. With six spots open, fans should expect the front office to announce at least two or three more signings in the next week or so.

Fans anxiously await more signings. Over the last few years, Atlanta have signed Barco, Nagbe, and Gonzalo Martinez. Those were three large acquisitions so fans have become somewhat accustomed to big offseason signings. There is no guarantee that Atlanta will make a big signing this offseason, especially with all three DP slots filled. However, the club needs more players with little time before CCL begins.

Most fans are unconvinced by Atlanta’s current roster and there is a sense among the fanbase that a strong signing is on the way. If these signings don’t come to fruition in a timely manner, the anxious feelings that Atlanta supporters are currently experiencing may get worse. Because of Atlanta’s history signing young South American players, there is a penchant for that player profile from most fans.

Next. Atlanta United: 3 things to watch for this preseason. dark

Arzamendia, Villasanti, and Rodriguez fit that profile well. Fans want these players as soon as possible so that preseason preparation for CCL goes smoothly. But if Atlanta United can’t sign these players soon, fans will be disappointed and the general feeling of unease with the roster will only get worse.