Wiebe column - Sep 3 2020 - primary image

What's next for Atlanta United and Inter Miami CF? | Andrew Wiebe

Let’s all agree not to waste a single synapse remembering the first-ever match between Atlanta United and Inter Miami CF. Tyler Wolff, I’ll grant you the lone exception, MLS debut and all. For everybody else, purge every last second of those 90 minutes.

This particular scoreless draw will be remembered solely for the news that broke before the ball was even kicked: a year and a half after becoming MLS’s record incoming transfer, Pity Martinez is headed to Saudi Arabia for a reported $18 million. Atlanta United are mashing the reset button. Vaarwel, Frank de Boer. Adios, Pity. Tu siguiente, Ezequiel?

We’ll see.

Same two words define the Inter Miami experience right now. What is this team’s identity? We’ll see. Who will be the much-discussed third Designated Player? We’ll see. Will they every wear a primarily pink jersey? We’ll see. Can they capture the hearts of South Floridians without a gameday experience … or wins? We’ll see.

One team is rebuilding, the other just building. Either way, there are lots of short-, medium- and long-term questions to be answered. Here are three.

Now what for Atlanta United and Ezequiel Barco?

Remember when I Baerantee’d Barco would drop a double-double in goals and assists in 2019 on Extratime? Me neither. Never happened.

This definitely happened on Wednesday night after an ineffectual 62 minutes from the Argentine earned him an early hook.

Hmmmmm, where have I seen that before?

No word on whether Barco kicked any seats upon arrival to the bench, but there’s no doubt that his production for the Five Stripes hasn’t matched the hype, price tag or international pedigree. It’s hard to imagine that’s going to suddenly change in the midst of a pandemic, with an interim head coach and without the Martinez duo (Pity and Josef) that was supposed to make him look like a $30 million player.

So now what? Will Barco be part of the house-cleaning? Is there a taker out there, at a number that makes sense for Atlanta? And if not, can Darren Eales and Carlos Bocanegra coax a manager to the club who can revitalize the young man’s career? Do you wait for the Olympics and hope for a value/form bump? Is that bump ever coming? We’ll see.

What does it say that neither Pity nor Barco settled with Tata Martino out the door?

Which comes first, the next manager of Atlanta United or a new attacking DP?

Enter The Athletic’s Felipe Cardenas…

Sounds like the answer to that question then is the player, as Eales also confirmed the club will be looking to add a player in this window prior to Wednesday night's match. That is unless Atlanta is conducting a high-profile coaching search with almost no leaks or peeps from South America, where they’re reportedly sniffing around. If that’s indeed the way it goes down, it simply reinforces what’s been pretty clear of late: the soccer decisions are made by technical director Carlos Bocanegra.

That’s his job, after all, but the seemingly unilateral nature of those decisions was clearly a point of contention for De Boer in the divorce. Maybe Atlanta already have their next manager on the down low. Maybe they’re consulting with him as they seek out their next big name. Maybe not. I don’t know. What I do know is that a gap between the coach and the players blew up the locker room and the project once and that’s one too many times for a club like Atlanta.

Think back to what made Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez so special. It was, in some significant part, their relationship with Martino and the freedom, faith and responsibility that he instilled in them that led to an MLS Cup triumph, dump truck full of pounds from Newcastle and goals on goals (plus, a long-term commitment) from the Venezuelan.

That vibe and Martino may be irreplicable, but 2020 is basically a wash already. Best to make sure the big pieces all fit together. The next big spend needs to be more Miggy than Pity.  

Is Gonzalo Higuain the right Designated Player signing for Inter Miami?

Sounds like general manager Paul McDonough thinks so.

So, after dozens of rumors, it seems the Argentine striker will be the team’s third DP, along with Rodolfo Pizarro and 20-year-old winger Matias Pellegrini. Should it come to pass, the 32-year-old Higuain would join 33-year-old Blaise Matuidi in making free moves from Juventus. At the very least, in a pandemic with no gate revenue, that seems like smart business. Why pay transfer fees when the immediate future is so uncertain?

Best-case scenario? The Argentine is a South Florida Robbie Keane. Miami need goals. They need some guile when it comes to chance creation. There’s some disagreement about what sort of DP would best facilitate those things, but it’s hard to argue that Higuain wouldn’t be a huge help in those departments, especially once Matuidi adds some dynamism to the midfield. They need to set a culture, too. A couple World Cup finalists (one winner) with trophy hauls Inter can only dream about ought to help there.

Still, I can’t help but think a pair of over-30 players on free transfers wasn’t exactly what Inter Miami was billed to be. You can measure MLS’s growth via your reaction to this move. In 2010, it would have been the only news that mattered. In 2020, we’re sort of like, “Yeah, that seems like it could work, but it’s kind meh, too.”

Short- and medium-term, I think it’d work out. It won’t be easy to be like Keane, who joined a Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup winning team with an established culture, but Higuain seems genuinely excited about the opportunity to play and compete in MLS. He’d arrive with eyes wide open thanks to the counsel of his older brother, Federico. He still finds the back of the net, even if those 30-plus goal seasons at Napoli and Juve are a couple years in the past.

And hey, maybe it’s another hold-on-how-did-that-happen TAM signing! Almost certainly not, but those parachute payments are no joke in Turin. Good money if you can get it.

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