Just as the club promised since the moment Pity Martinez was transferred on September 7, Atlanta United moved quickly to sign another Designated Player, announcing his replacement a little more than two weeks after he officially departed.
ATLUTD acquired midfielder Marcelino Moreno from Argentine club Lanus, identifying and signing a long-term target after initially spotting him playing alongside Miguel Almiron before the Paraguayan came to MLS.
For Atlanta, the timing of the deal was hugely important. Despite a coaching change, a season-ending injury to superstar forward Josef Martinez, the transfer of Pity and a lackluster first 12 games this season, the club's 2020 ambitions haven't changed.
“When we sold Pity, obviously it’s difficult to sell a guy in the middle of the season," technical director Carlos Bocanegra told reporters on a virtual press conference. "An impactful player on our team, obviously that wasn’t ideal. But the deal made sense for all parties and we want to keep competing this year. It wasn’t a case where we just wanted to count the money. … We wanted to reinvest and strengthen the squad again, we’re not looking to roll over this year. We’re frustrated, we're angry. With Marcelino coming in, we’re really excited."
Atlanta are still waiting on the visa process for Moreno, after which he'll have to quarantine for 10 days whenever he's able to enter the country. Bocanegra believes all of that will take about three weeks.
Unlike the way Jurgen Damm has been brought into the squad slowly as he builds fitness and sharpness since signing this summer, Bocanegra believes Marcelino can hit the ground running when he joins the team for full training. The midfielder has been in preseason for several weeks with Lanus, so fitness is not a concern.
“What we try to do at the club always is have a succession plan," Bocanegra said. "We’re always trying to have a depth chart. The scouting department, analytics department keep us prepared so we’re not left out to dry.”
Highlights: Marcelino Moreno
Bocanegra did his best to steer away from comparisons to Almiron, which have come naturally given Moreno arrives from the same club and plays the same position as Almiron did.
“We have a profile of players at our club, he certainly fits that," Bocanegra said. "He has similar attributes to someone like Miguel, but I don’t want to compare him to Miguel. He’s a different player. The thought is he’ll free up [Ezequiel] Barco, then when Josef comes back next year he can combine with him. That’s stuff we saw in him, but he very much fits the profile of a player we want to bring in.”
Moreno is a versatile midfielder who can play through the center as an attacking midfielder or a deeper option, as well as on the wings. Atlanta like his ability to dribble out of pressure, break lines and raise the tempo when he's on the pitch.
His raw numbers at Lanus don't exactly jump off the page, with six goals and 13 assists over 106 career matches with the club, but it's worth pointing out that it was similar for Almiron. The Newcastle United star had just four goals and four assists in 40 appearances before his move to Atlanta, while Josef Martinez had 13 goals in 76 appearances with Italy's Torino before exploding in Atlanta.
“I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on this kid," Bocanegra said. "Obviously we’ve been struggling, we can’t expect him to save the day when he gets here. We think he’ll have a big impact for us, but I don’t think it’s fair to be expected he’ll be the hero from day one.”
It wasn't all good news for Atlanta on Tuesday, though.
Bocanegra revealed that Erick "Cubo" Torres is likely to miss most of the rest of the season with a knee sprain and the club have no more room to add another forward. Torres was signed with a roster spot that was freed up when Josef Martinez was moved to the season-ending injured list. Bocanegra said the club is not expecting to make any more signings this fall.