Atlanta United: Fans must temper expectations for club’s newest DP

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

Atlanta United announced Marcelino Moreno as the club’s sixth ever DP

Atlanta United announced their sixth ever Designated Player on Tuesday morning. New signing Marcelino Moreno joins the club’s history books alongside Hector ‘Tito’ Villalba, Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, and Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martinez.

For Atlanta supporters, expectations are typically high when it comes to any signing, let alone a DP. Just ask anyone who follows the team about their opinion of Matheus Rossetto or Manuel Castro or Jake Mulraney. At best you’ll likely receive a lukewarm response. At worst you’ll endure another rant about how the front office doesn’t know what they’re doing.

If there’s one thing all the 17s (the fake ones and true ones included) can agree on, it’s that this team needs the front office to hit on the signing of Moreno. After three fantastic DP signings (Villalba, J. Martinez, Almiron) and two average ones (Barco, G. Martinez), fans are going to have certain expectations about the club’s sixth.

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So why should fans hold back on their usual standards of the club’s players?

Read the room

It’s painfully obvious the year 2020 has not gone according to plan. Not globally, not as a country, and certainly not from a sporting perspective. Go ahead and lump in the front office’s decision making this year as well.

A few of the front office’s signings have yet to pan out. Adam Jahn and Edgar Castillo were signed as depth, so they’ve served their role up to this point. However, other players like Manuel Castro and Matheus Rossetto and Brooks Lennon and Jake Mulraney have disappointed thus far.

According to reporters, Rossetto is still finding his fitness, which is unfortunate since the player has been with Atlanta since February. Castro has barely found the pitch, and in the few games he’s played, he’s looked timid and out of place. Lennon gets the most playtime of this bunch, but he has yet to produce at a rate even close to his predecessor, Julian Gressel. Mulraney hasn’t seen the field much either but hasn’t taken advantage of his opportunities.

The jury is still out on the summer signings of Erik Lopez, Jurgen Damm, and Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres. Lopez won’t likely feature with the first team until 2021, while Damm and Torres are still finding their fitness and working on chemistry with their teammates after only a few weeks of being with the club.

All of this is to say: 2020 has been exceptionally weird. Go ahead and expect Moreno to not do much, given the current run of form for the club, and the fact that there is an interim manager in place and heavy roster turnover is still taking its toll on the team.

Understand the individual

A significant amount of fans made a grave mistake when reports began surfacing about the signing of Pity Martinez back in December of 2018. Since Martinez arrived just as Miguel Almiron was leaving, fans began assuming that Martinez was a replacement for Almiron.

There are two key factors as to why the assumption was a mistake. 1) Almiron is practically a unicorn of a player and 2) Martinez doesn’t even play a similar style to Almiron. Yet, because Martinez took over the #10 shirt and played in a similar position, fans quickly became disappointed when Martinez failed to produce at the same clip or in the same style as Almiron.

Fans should be careful about their expectations for Moreno in this regard. Should he inherit the #10 shirt from Martinez, fans must leave their expectation baggage at the door. Moreno is likely not going to play like Martinez or Almiron (despite coming from the same club in Paraguay).

It’s also extremely important to keep in mind that Moreno hasn’t played in a competitive match since March. That’s at least a half year of no real game time. It will take a while for Moreno to gain match fitness and to build chemistry with his teammates, so fans should be careful anticipating Moreno’s production, especially in the early going.

Think about the future

There is no concrete evidence to back this up (yet), but fans and media alike are already speculating that Moreno’s contract is structured similarly to Villalba’s. Essentially, Villalba signed with Atlanta in the offseason before the club’s first year in 2017. He was originally a Designated Player, but because his contract was low enough, the club was able to buy down the contract with TAM going into the 2018 season, thus allowing them to sign Barco as a DP and to keep Villalba in the squad.

It is possible Moreno signed a similar deal, depending on the transfer fee and his salary. If this is the case, it would be easy to say Atlanta’s front office made a savvy deal. If Moreno is talented enough to be a DP but can be bought down to a TAM player, this would open the door for Atlanta to sign another DP in the offseason (or maybe two if Barco is sold).

Buying down Moreno to a TAM deal would be excellent, especially if he’s not able to find his fitness in the last few months of this anomaly of a season. If Moreno uses the end of the season to adjust to a new country and a new team, hits his stride in time for 2021, and is a TAM player? That would be a significant win for the front office, the club, and the fanbase as a whole.

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Until then, fans must be careful with their expectations for Moreno. Remember the club is clearly in a transition moment between their lack of a permanent manager, their lack of Josef Martinez, and the heavy roster turnover contributing to poor on-field chemistry.