ATLANTA — Everything seems to be falling into place for an Atlanta United dream season, but one can’t help but wonder if this is the best chance the team will have to win a championship for quite some time.
Consider this: Miguel Almiron has publicly stated that he hopes to be playing in Europe as soon as next season. And Wednesday night’s MLS All-Star Game presented by Target (7:30 pm ET | ESPN, UniMás, TSN, TVAS) could be the perfect audition.
“I have said it before, that my objective is to play in Europe,” Almiron said in an interview with ESPN. “I work daily on that. I’m happy here in Atlanta. The club makes me feel comfortable, but yes, in 2019, hopefully I will be playing in Europe.”
Atlanta United president Darren Eales has remained steadfast in his position that Almiron will not be sold until they receive an offer that the club finds acceptable, but conventional wisdom has it that those offers will roll in sooner rather than later.
If potentially losing a vital player wasn’t a big enough headache for Eales, the Atlanta United boss also needs to hold talks with manager Tata Martino, a figure who is inarguably more important to the club than any other player and maybe any other individual. His contract expires at the end of this year, and while he has an extension built in that can be triggered, there’s no public knowledge lending insight into the Argentine’s plans following this season.
Finally, there’s Josef Martinez, the MLS MVP front-runner and a striker who looks set to smash the league’s single-season goalscoring record with games to burn. A player of his ilk and apparent quality will always attract big clubs. Atlanta United will likely be hearing from suitors happy to give him another shot in Europe after a rocky stint at Torino in Serie A.
This leaves Atlanta in a precarious situation. While the team’s opportunity is great, the window is tight—even more so if you consider that Atlanta is heavily reliant on a pair of 34-year-old veteran players like Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz, who might not have much more soccer left in them after this season. With that in mind, the mission for the team is clear.
“The goal is definitely Supporters’ Shield. That's first and foremost,” Parkhurst said on Tuesday before training with his MLS All-Star teammates. “Before we get to the playoffs, we want to be No. 1. I think that we've put ourselves in a great position at this point to do that, and I think it would be very disappointing if we didn't continue [our form] in the second half of the season. That said, I don't see any reason why we can't continue with it, and that's the expectation.”