Miguel Almiron - Atlanta United - with scarf upon signing - Dec. 5, 2016
Courtesy of Atlanta United FC

Armchair Analyst: Be excited for Atlanta United, but keep perspective

Presented for your approval, a brief smattering of takes about 2017 expansion team Atlanta United.

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In the comments section of our humble website:

I'm not going to bother with Instagram or Snapchat or any other social media platforms/comments sections, because I'm pretty sure we'll find the same thing in each place: People are HYPED about Atlanta United.

In large part, they're right to be. Tata Martino has a different global profile than other MLS coaches, and that's helped allow Arthur Blank's front office to target different kinds of players. Miguel Almiron, who was widely regarded as one of the best wingers in the Argentine Primera at age 22, is pretty clearly the best example of that. Venezuela attacker Josef Martinez, who already has nine goals in 37 caps at age 23, soon joined him, and another 22-year-old attacker – Hector Villalba – was already in the fold ahead of them.

Yamil Asad, a 22-year-old attacking midfielder, was added somewhere in the middle of the above acquisition spree. Veteran striker Kenwyne Jones was already aboard, and is supposed to be the piece that ties the whole room together. If not him, then US U-20 center forward Brandon Vasquez, perhaps?

Looking at that apparent embarrassment of riches, you could make a plausible (if not probable) argument that we'll see Atlanta come out in a 2-3-5 next year. Looking at that apparent embarrassment of riches, Atlanta United fans have largely come to expect "at least" a playoff appearance in Year 1.

To these folks I say: Please slow down. I am a fan of many of Atlanta's acquisitions on a granular level, and a huge fan of their overarching philosophy with regard to buying in-their-prime or outright young players to build around. Getting a veteran like Carlos Carmona to do the dirty work in defensive midfield does make the whole thing about 50% more likely to work out, too. I'd spent a long time this winter wondering how they were going to plug that particular gap, and getting a player of Carmona's proven quality suggests the decision-makers in Atlanta are capable of the right kind of critical analysis with regard to what they're planning to put out on the field.

Nonetheless, here is a word of warning from a neutral source who understands a thing or two about identifying and developing under-the-radar talent (Ted used to work for Brentford):

Many of the people who have made glowing predictions for Atlanta are operating under the assumption that the Argentine Primera is a significantly better league than MLS, and thus most of the above players will walk into this league and dominate. Ted's job (and the job of several other professional talent evaluators I've spoken with anonymously) is to make more sober and realistic assessments of both player and league quality.

The gap between the two leagues still exists, but it's narrowed significantly over the past three years. And the gap is much tighter than the general public seems to think.

Given that info, there is another concern that every expansion team in history has had to face:

League-wide, the success rate on international targets is extremely low. In the last 24 months, here's a list of pedigreed, young-ish players who've come and gone through NYCFC, the most recent expansion team to come into MLS with as much hype and as outsized expectations as Atlanta:

• Andres Mendoza: Never played an MLS game and is back in Ecuador.

• Javier Calle: The former Colombian youth international scored 1 goal in 542 minutes, never won a starting job, and is back home with Independiente Medellin.

• Angelino: Spanish youth international and Manchester City product played 992 minutes and picked up four assists. He's currently a deep reserve in the Spanish second tier.

• Jefferson Mena: Acquired as a 25-year-old, he struggled mightily and is on loan with Barcelona in Ecuador.

• Federico Bravo: Came to MLS as a 22-year-old with 34 appearances for Boca Juniors under his belt. Lost his starting job mid-season and never won it back.

• Diego Martinez: A River Plate product who had a dozen games in the Argentine top flight and five times that many in the second tier, he played just 262 MLS minutes and is now an unsigned free agent.

• Steven Mendoza: Former Colombia U-20 regular who played for three of the biggest clubs in South America (Deportivo Cali, America Cali & Corinthians), he scored five times in 24 appearances last season.

Nearly every team in the league can tell a similar story. Who, for example, recalls Montreal Impact DP Lucas Ontivero, or Colorado DP Juan Ramirez, or 'Caps DP Octavio Rivero? Who is waiting for Gonzalo Veron to finally make good for RBNY? Who wants to look at the bloody wreckage of Chicago's all-time DP list?

For the record: I do think it's possible for Atlanta United to make the playoffs, and it wouldn't shock me if Villalba proved to be one of the best wingers in the league despite sporting a year's worth of rust. It wouldn't surprise me if Almiron improved as a playmaker, and it definitely wouldn't surprise me if Carmona proved to be one of the best defensive midfielders in the league. This is a roster with a ton of promise.

But we've seen "promise" in MLS before, and precious few guarantees. So while I encourage the fanbase to enjoy the hype, I'll caution you against believing it just yet.

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