What you need to know

Major League Soccer awards expansion team to San Diego

San Diego has been awarded the league's 30th team, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced Thursday. San Diego will begin competing as an expansion club in 2025 at Snapdragon Stadium – the 35,000-seat venue that's already home to the NWSL's San Diego Wave FC and is a host venue for the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup – while their name and crest will be announced in the buildup to their debut season. 

Atlanta United transfer Araújo to Brazil's Flamengo

Atlanta United are offloading one of the biggest pieces of their roster, announcing Thursday the surprise transfer of high-profile winger Luiz Araújo to Brazilian Serie A powerhouse Flamengo. The 26-year-old, who joined the Five Stripes in the summer of 2021 in one of Major League Soccer's most expensive inbound transfers ever (reported $10 million, plus another $2 million in incentives), will stay with the club through their June 24 match at the New York Red Bulls before making the permanent move to the Mengão.

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A wild news day appeared!

Apologies if you were coming here for a Watchgridometer. But you got one on Tuesday and doctors don’t recommend consuming two Watchgridometers so close together like that. In fact, they actually told me that it’d be much healthier to not consume a Watchgridometer at all and read a book instead. That seems like a lot of work though (the words aren’t even in a grid??) so we’ll just push it back to tomorrow. 

Besides, we can’t just ignore two massive pieces of news from yesterday. Starting with…

It's official!

San Diego Soccer Team To Be Named Later will officially join MLS as the league’s 30th team in 2025. Word has been out for a while now, but it feels far more tangible after yesterday.

As far as analysis goes, I’m not sure I have anything beyond “cool!” and “neat!” and “wowee!” I’ve never been to San Diego. But I do know a few things about the city. In no particular order, those things are: Tony Gwynn, the San Diego Chicken, FBS all-time career rushing leader Donnel Pumphrey, Kawhi Leonard, 32,000 people showing up for San Diego Wave games in the NWSL, Landon Donovan managing San Diego Loyal, former FBS single-game rushing leader LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers, various Anchorman quotes that I haven’t said out loud in a decade after someone told me “repeating lines from a movie isn’t a personality,” and Tony Gwynn, who was awesome.

From afar, a couple of those things feel important. First, that NWSL attendance record is amazing. That’s as good as proof of concept for an MLS fan base gets. Like every expansion team as of late, the crowds are going to be outstanding. Second, the Chargers leaving still has to sting. Just a wild decision to go be another city’s like 13th most popular team instead of a cultural cornerstone in San Diego. I’m going to guess there’s still a void there. One that Soccer Team To Be Named Later can and very likely will help fill. Score another early point for the “the crowds are going to be outstanding” take.

Anyway, my own personal “I know nothing I’m just throwing words out there from my couch” thought is that this isn’t the last time we’ll be talking about an expansion team. But San Diego seems to be positioned to claim a relatively unique space in their city’s landscape and the team will arrive right around the time the buildup to the 2026 World Cup starts to get into gear. This is going to be fun.

It’s official?????

I woke up and saw a report from Brazil that Flamengo and Atlanta United were in talks to transfer DP winger Luiz Araújo. I took an afternoon nap and woke up to an official announcement from both clubs. As I used to say back in 2013, “Boy, that escalated quickly.”

Although, if we’re being honest, there was a buildup. Araújo arrived in Atlanta from Lille in August of 2021 for a reported $12 million fee. At that point in time, Atlanta United didn’t even have a permanent manager. The Gabriel Heinze era had recently crashed and burned in spectacular fashion and the team was still a week away from announcing Gonzalo Pineda. Kind of a weird time to arrive as one of the most expensive transfers in league history.

However, Araújo showed up and immediately showed promise. You could see the speed with the ball at his feet and what we generally identify as “talent” in spades. But what made him so instantly intriguing is what eventually made him one of the single-most frustrating players I’ve ever seen.

Araújo never put all that on-ball ability together. His lack of off-ball movement constantly had him receiving the ball too deep to truly make an impact if he even received the ball at all. From there, he had a tendency to try and pick out the longest shot possible. Last year, he finished near the top of the league in total shots along with names like Hany Mukhtar, Sebastián Driussi and Jeremy Ebobisse. That’s 23, 22, and 17 goals respectively. Araújo had four. On an extremely related note, he averaged 0.07 xG per shot, well below the league average shot of 0.10 xG. On average, he shot from 21 yards away.

Yet, there were still plenty of reasons to try and talk yourself into him becoming a bonafide superstar in MLS. It seemed like this might be the year. It kind of had to be the year. Just clean up the shot selection and be more involved in the game consistently. It hasn’t happened. It’s gotten better. Just not in the kind of way that results in an almost-star becoming a Landon Donovan MLS MVP-caliber player. And there’s no reason for Atlanta to keep waiting for it to happen.

I mean this sincerely: Araújo made me reconsider how we even assess “talent” in soccer players. Sometimes we get so caught up in a player’s ability on the ball we forget that players spend 95% of the game without it. If they don’t understand how to effectively get into positions to receive the ball in dangerous areas, then whatever on-ball skill gets rendered moot by the multiple defenders happy to let you dribble directly into traffic. Which Araújo did. A lot.

I’ve said it before, but there just seems like there’s a disconnect between his ability to manipulate the ball and his understanding of why good things happen in soccer games. And if that understanding had ever developed, he would have been a nightmare. Instead, it’s clear Atlanta are making the right choice in sending him to Flamengo.

The Five Stripes now have an open DP spot. Their second under new president Garth Lagerwey, who’s been tasked with improving Atlanta’s scouting processes in the same way he did in Seattle. The first DP signing, Giorgos Giakoumakis, has been an immediate and remarkable success. Now, they have even more time to improve on those processes and plenty of time to find that new DP before the summer window even officially opens. If they can hit on this player the same way they did Giakoumakis, Atlanta will take a major step toward returning to the success of their first three seasons. We’ll be talking about them as a true contender again.

Other Things

Charlotte FC's Cambridge named Player of the Matchday: Coming off a breakout brace in just his fourth MLS appearance, Charlotte FC midfielder Brandon Cambridge has been voted the Major League Soccer Player of the Matchday presented by Continental Tire for Matchday 13 of the 2023 campaign.

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Good luck out there. All you have to do is wait.