Atlanta United: Potential signing of Marcelino Moreno could prove fatal

Atlanta United, Marcelino Moreno (Photo by Rodrigo Valle/Getty Images)
Atlanta United, Marcelino Moreno (Photo by Rodrigo Valle/Getty Images) /

Atlanta United would be making a mistake signing Marcelino Moreno

Have you talked to an Atlanta United supporter lately? Chances are they’re still feeling down after Saturday night’s dispiriting 4-2 loss to “rivals” Nashville SC. Saturday’s loss, along with the previous Wednesday’s loss to Inter Miami, have forced Atlanta supporters into a state of apathy not yet experienced in the club’s nearly four-year existence.

In fact, the situation surrounding Atlanta United is so bad, fans are hardly showing their excitement for a new potential DP signing. Any possible excitement has made way for jokes about the club’s service dog, announced as a new signing back in January during the team’s extensive roster overhaul.

But there’s a bigger, long-term issue at play here with the reported signing of midfielder Marcelino Moreno. Let’s take a brief look at the club’s history of signing players and why this move for Moreno may be flawed.

A rapid rate of change for Atlanta United

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We don’t need to discuss Atlanta’s rapid rise to success in MLS. Their electrifying style of play under manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino captured the hearts and minds of nearly everyone in the city, culminating in an MLS Cup victory in 2018.

Martino left shortly after, taking the manager position with the Mexican national team, and the front office found themselves in the midst of a coaching search. That search turned up Dutch manager Frank de Boer, who, after disastrous stints in England and Italy, was looking for a more stable coaching position.

Fast forward just 21 months later: de Boer is fired, the club sold its most expensive DP signing in Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martinez, and the team is reeling under interim manager Stephen Glass.

Fans are unhappy with the current state of the club. That must-watch, highly entertaining style of play from 2018? Gone without a trace. The team is a shell of its former self. Of the eleven starters against Nashville on Saturday night, just three remain from the starting XI in MLS Cup 2018.

Many of the club’s supporters are left wondering how we got here today. Frankly, it’s a mix of many factors, but the largest looming factor seems to be talent acquisition. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that Martino had a heavy influence over the early versions of the team, whereas the current team is more influenced by front office leaders Darren Eales and Carlos Bocanegra.

Tata vs the front office

Let’s take a quick look at player acquisitions via paid transfer (no loaned players, drafted players, free transfers) before Martino’s departure and after:

Before – Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, Hector Villalba, Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez, Tyrone Mears, Ezequiel Barco, Darlington Nagbe, Franco Escobar, Eric Remedi
After – Pity Martinez, Emerson Hyndman, Justin Meram, Dion Pereira, Brooks Lennon, Mo Adams, Matheus Rossetto, Jake Mulraney, Fernando Meza

Although this is just one aspect of the club’s player acquisitions, it is painfully obvious that talent identification was much better when Martino was with the club. He is not the only factor in these decisions (losing technical director Paul McDonough to Inter Miami was a big loss), but it’s clear he was a significant factor in signing players.

These two lists don’t even factor in talent identification from the SuperDraft either. Under Martino, the club selected Julian Gressel (started in trophy-winning matches, sold to DC United for $750k), Miles Robinson (locked in starter), and Jon Gallagher (started last week vs Miami). Since Martino’s departure, the club has yet to draft a player that sees first-team minutes.

It is still unclear how much control over signings de Boer had while with the club. Bocanegra and Eales seem to be the driving forces behind player moves both incoming and outgoing, which is exactly why the potential signing of Marcelino Moreno makes almost no sense.

Signing without a manager

To this day, Atlanta United have made just one key signing without a manager in place at the time of the signing: Pity Martinez in December of 2018. With Martinez now overseas playing in Saudi Arabia, we can better assess his overall performance during his stay in Atlanta.

Martinez contributed to the club’s two trophies in 2019, scoring the game-winning goal in the US Open Cup and playing a significant factor in the club’s Campeones Cup victory. However, with the club paying around $15M (a league record for an incoming transfer), most fans were left wanting more out of Martinez’s time with the club.

Moreno’s potential move to Atlanta, which comes without a permanent manager in place (as far as we know), is most like Martinez’s move in December 2018. And although we can’t draw similar conclusions without seeing Moreno play with Atlanta, we can at least look back on the club signing without a manager’s input.

The club wants to fight to make the playoffs this season. Their attempts to sign a DP prove as much. The club also wants to shift the culture back to their winning ways from Martino’s time in charge, which arguably cannot be done with a permanent manager in place.

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If the signing of Moreno doesn’t pan out, this could set the club’s current “rebuild” back even farther. Luckily for the club, Atlanta still made a profit on Pity Martinez despite his inconsistent performances and his less valuable age of 27 years old. One could argue Martinez would’ve seen more success under a manager that identified his talent and selected him under their own volition.

Who can say whether or not Moreno’s signing, without a manager in place, will be any better than Martinez’s?