So about those new boys…
Minnesota United and Atlanta United — we know, we know, enough with the United — make their MLS regular season debuts this weekend, beginning with the former’s trip to Portland on Friday.
What are the fortunes for these two, and what should you watch for? Read on.
If there’s a more stylish pick than the Georgia set, we’re unaware of it; Atlanta United’s signings and hirings have captured the imagination of Major League Soccer.
Owner Arthur Blank started with hiring Darren Eales away from Tottenham Hotspur, and Eales brought technical director Carlos Bocanegra and coach Tata Martino. That’s a who’s who with experience in the Premier League, La Liga, the UEFA Champions League, and, yes, MLS.
The attack is going to be outrageous: Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez are signings that wouldn’t look alien in the world’s top leagues, and Kenwyne Jones likely still has plenty to give. There’s also wunderkind Andrew Carleton, but who knows how much time he’ll see.
Chilean veteran Carlos Carmona is a huge pick-up to steady the center of the park, and Michael Parkhurst is going to know how to get a team arranged well before Brad Guzan arrives from Middlesbrough. Depth, league experience, and cohesion will take some time, but ATL UTD will be both fun and competitive. A playoff game, maybe even one at home, isn’t out of the question.
What the Loons lack in flash compared to their expansion rivals they make up for in organizational experience. United has been running its house for years in the NASL, founded in 2010.
Longtime leading scorer Christian Ramirez and ex-USMNT man Miguel Ibarra are among the Minnesota players who can help new faces adjust to town, and the Loons have done well in grabbing a mix of vets and new MLS faces.
Joshua Gatt may be the most interesting, as the promising attacker saw his career arc cut down by a series of injuries in Europe. Along with Orlando City stalwart Kevin Molino and ex-Montreal man Johan Venegas, there are a number of options who may shine in a new spot (Molino seems to be the odds-on favorite).
Adrian Heath is the boss and will have to prove that he can take a club to the next level, but for now Minnesota will be pleased to have a boss who navigated a very similar channel when Orlando went from the USL to MLS.
The Loons will have to work well to compete for a playoff spot out West, but should have more than their fair share of highlights on the road through their first campaign in the country’s top flight.