Though their roster is mostly set for 2022, big questions loom over Atlanta United as preseason opens next week. Chief among them revolve around the futures of Ezequiel Barco and Thiago Almada.

Atlanta chased Almada, a 20-year-old Argentine wonderkid from Velez Sarsfield, in the summer before ultimately signing Brazilian winger Luiz Araujo. ATLUTD continued chasing Almada before Velez announced this winter that he will be joining Atlanta in a potential league-record $16 million transfer fee, but Atlanta quickly sought to clarify by announcing they had agreed upon an "exclusive option" to acquire Almada for that $16 million figure.

Part of the reason? They can't add him to the roster without opening another Designated Player spot. With Josef Martinez and the recently-acquired Araujo ensconced in two of the DP spots, Barco appears the odd man out.

No official resolution on the futures of Barco or Almada have quite arrived yet with a first full season under head coach Gonzalo Pineda around the corner. Technical director Carlos Bocanegra told media he had no updates to provide as of Tuesday afternoon.

The first bit of news is starting to matriculate publicly, though. A source can confirm a report from CL Merlo that Brazilian club Internacional are keen on a loan with purchase option deal for Barco. That would free up the roster/cap space to acquire Almada.

Barco has been very loosely linked with several European clubs during his time with Atlanta and a big-money move to Europe was the plan when initially acquired as a rising teenager. The 22-year-old has 17g/17a in 81 MLS appearances.

Almada, meanwhile, has 24 goals and 11 assists in 98 professional appearances with Velez. He also has a sexual assault accusation case active in Argentina.

If Almada does indeed join as overwhelmingly expected this winter, it'll be the third time in a row Atlanta set a new league-record transfer fee. Barco was acquired for $15 million ahead of the 2018 season (from Independiente), then Pity Martinez for a little more than $15 million in 2019 (from River Plate).

Atlanta still have some more business to do, though.

“We should be making two to three more signings potentially here before the season starts," Bocanegra said.

The Five Stripes are looking for another goalkeeping addition behind Brad Guzan, as well as potentially another forward behind Josef Martinez. Bocanegra announced they reached an agreement over the permanent transfer of Venezuelan fullback Ronald Hernandez from Scotland's Aberdeen. Hernandez was on loan last year.

Martinez, meanwhile, told The Athletic's Felipe Cardenas that he hopes to extend his contract soon, saying he wants a raise and extension to guarantee his future. Bocanegra downplayed contract concerns for his star striker.

“Josef has a long time left on his contract, we haven’t had any talks," Bocanegra said. "They haven’t approached us, we haven’t approached them. We’re in a good place. … It’s not really an issue for us right now.”