Break up Atlanta United.
That’s a bit dramatic, especially considering the big sides assembled by MLS expansion teams of yesteryear, but it’s worth believing Atlanta United’s plan is coming together in impressive — perhaps unprecedented — fashion.
The latest piece came Wednesday, as United president Darren Eales announced the arrival of free agent signing and 33-year-old Swiss army knife Jeff Larentowicz.
This on the heels of perhaps the biggest coaching move in MLS history, the addition of Tata Martino, the DP signings of Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba, the reported arrivals Brad Guzan and Oscar Romero, and a number of other well-worked (and not all old) moves by Carlos Bocanegra and company.
New York City FC, for all its might, didn’t have Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard for Day One. And Orlando City looked strong, but more slapped together.
Aside from the Martino point, Atlanta’s moves look a lot like the idea behind the success of 2016 Toronto FC. Bold, young playmakers up top with plenty of steady MLS veterans in the fold. And surely the national respect for Bocanegra isn’t hurting the club’s recruiting efforts.
Larentowicz has played in four MLS Cup Finals between two conferences, winning the 2010 Cup with Colorado. Michael Parkhurst has also played in finals with two different sides, most recently 2014 in Columbus (Oddly enough, Larentowicz and Parkhurst started together during New England’s run in the last decade).
Zach Loyd and Mark Bloom have been there, too, while ex-Premier Leaguers Kenwyne Jones and Chris McCann aren’t going to be afraid of the spotlight. There are Georgia natives who’ll be proud to build a home culture, and youngsters like Andrew Carleton and Brandon Vazquez who stand to learn from strong leaders.
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Sure, it could fall apart. Martino, for all his accolades, has to deal with the unorthodox travel, scheduling, and officiating of Major League Soccer. The young, flashy DPs could find it hard to deal with physical, foul-happy MLS defenses.
But Eales, Bocanegra, and Martino have given notice that this expansion side could make an instant impact on the Eastern Conference playoff race. There’s reason to be high on ATLUTD.
But how high? A playoff spot would be an achievement even given the relatively forgiving format of MLS. In a conference where Toronto, New York City, and the Red Bulls are considered givens, there will be three more spots. Columbus shouldn’t stay down, Ben Olsen always has DC United competitive, and Jason Kreis showed Orlando won’t be down for long.
That’s six right there, without considering playoff fixture Montreal, upstarts Philadelphia, and a New England team that’s competitive more often than not.