It’s all change for Atlanta United in 2021. New coach Gabriel Heinze arrives with a reputation as one of the best young coaches in the Americas, and has been charged with leading the Five Stripes back to the top echelons of MLS after a 2020 to forget.
Heinze has been given some promising new tools with which to achieve that goal but the biggest reason for optimism for Atlanta fans heading into 2021 is surely the return of the man they know simply as Josef.
As the 2018 MLS Golden Boot winner declared: “The father is back.”
- MLS Reg. Season: 12th place in Eastern Conference (22 pts - 0.96 PPG - 6-13-4)
- Audi MLS Cup Playoffs: DNQ
- Concacaf Champions League: Eliminated in quarterfinals by Club America, 3-1
To say that Atlanta missed Josef Martinez when he went down with a torn ACL in the club’s opening game of the 2020 MLS season would be a dramatic understatement. In his absence, Atlanta averaged just a goal a game during the regular season. If he can get back to anything like his best in 2021, his presence will be transformative.
Barco’s progress has not yet matched expectations since his big-money move to Atlanta in 2018. But the attacking midfielder is still just 21 and there’s undeniable talent for new coach Heinze to work with.
The Argentine No. 10 had little time to impress after arriving from Lanus at the end of September. Still he showed enough flashes, with two goals and an assist in six appearances, to show he could be a valuable source of creativity.
Young Player to Watch
The 19-year-old homegrown enjoyed a breakout season in 2020, starting 19 games at left back and earning a debut with the US men’s national team in a January friendly against Trinidad & Tobago. A big future surely awaits.
- Franco Ibarra: After the departures of Eric Remidi and Jeff Larentowicz, defensive midfield was clearly an area of need for Atlanta. In Argentine U-20 international Franco Ibarra, Atlanta hope to have someone who can develop into one of the best in his position around MLS.
- Santiago Sosa: Another Argentine U-20 midfielder to arrive this offseason, Sosa’s attributes suggest he could be a long-sought replacement for the conductor-role occupied by Darlington Nagbe in the club’s 2018 MLS Cup-winning season.
- Franco Escobar: A fan favorite after scoring in the club’s 2018 MLS Cup victory over the Portland Timbers, the right-sided defender has returned to Newell’s Old Boys on loan for 2021.
- Fernando Meza: Another Argentine defender to leave on loan, Meza departed to Defensa y Justicia after a single season in Atlanta.
- Jeff Larentowicz: A leader for the team since their 2017 expansion season, the 37-year-old made 113 regular-season appearances for Atlanta before departing after his contract expired at the end of 2020.
Projected Starting XI
- Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan, Alec Kann, Ben Lundgaard
- Defenders (9): Mikey Ambrose, George Bello, George Campbell, Alex De John, Ronald Hernandez, Brooks Lennon, Efran Morales, Miles Robinson, Anton Walkes
- Midfielders (10): Mo Adams, Ezequiel Barco, Machop Chol, Jurgen Damm, Emerson Hydnmann, Franco Ibarra, Marcelino Moreno, Jake Mulraney, Matheus Rossetto, Santiago Sosa, Tyler Wolff
- Forwards (5): Jackson Conway, Erik Lopez, Lisandro Lopez, Josef Martinez, Erick Torres
Armchair Analyst's Breakdown
- Strength: Josef is back, and while an ACL tear is still a major injury, it’s no longer of the career-derailing variety. He should be as good as new, and the “as good as new” version of Josef isn’t just the best pure goalscoring center forward in MLS history. He’s a guy whose movement and gravity makes everyone else in the attack much, much better.
- Weakness: It’s not a weakness per se, since there’s a good chance that a number of the newcomers will hit, and that Miles Robinson will bounce back and that George Bello will continue to progress, but at this point how many Atlanta players are proven to be in the top 25% of the league at their respective positions? It’s basically just Josef. This is probably more of an “unanswered question that might end up being a strength” than an outright weakness though, to be fair.
- Charles Boehm: 5th in East
- Tom Bogert: 3rd in East
- Susannah Collins: 3rd in East
- Charlie Davies: 8th in East
- Matthew Doyle: 2nd in East
- Sam Jones: 4th in East
- Michael Lahoud: 2nd in East
- Joe Lowery: 2nd in East
- Jillian Sakovits: 1st in East
- Greg Seltzer: 5th in East
- Steve Zakuani: 7th in East