Look, we all watched the amazing MLS Cup victory and the ensuing parade with glee. Both of those things will not soon be forgotten by anyone with Atlanta sports affiliation, or for that matter, affiliation with the city as a whole . However, having established a new standard of excellence in the league, Atlanta United now needs to turn their attention to the upcoming season. With a quirky mini trade window and an expansion draft happening Tuesday, the MLS offseason comes at you fast. Listed below are what should be the five most pressing issues on management’s docket.
1.) Settle on a new manager
Tata Martino we wish you well. You will never be forgotten as a major engine starter for this franchise, attracting many of the internationals on this roster. You also brought an instant credibility to the club. We also shouldn’t shed any tears over your departure as longevity just wasn’t in your history and to expect it would be wrong. So goodbye and we’ll sadly be rooting against you should you become Mexico’s manager.
2019 will bring a changing of the guard in many respects, but most of all in the form of the manager. With Tata leaving, the top priority will be bringing in a replacement, beyond even player acquisition. Not only does a manager establish tactics and playing style, but as we have seen first-hand, can be a major driver of player recruitment. If most reports are to be believed, the two primary targets for United are Columbus Crew club legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who has been leading Boca Juniors and recently lost the Copa Libertadores final, and Jorge Sampoli, the manager who won the Copa America with Chile. Both will be without a job, as Schelotto’s contract ends at the end of Boca Juniors season. Settling on the next man up is critical in continuing the success of this club.
2.) Give Josef Martinez a raise
This second matter of business shouldn’t be understated. Martinez was the 32nd highest paid player according to the MLS players union salary release in terms of base salary. Quite simply that is unacceptable given the club’s resources. I’d be willing to wager that without a substantial increase in salary we could be seeing Martinez seek employment at another club, probably in Europe. To let the single-season record goal scorer and MLS MVP leave would be criminal and alienating to fans who have fallen head over heels for the striker.
3.) Replace Almiron with Pity Martinez
The Martinez move appears to be all but done according to MLSsoccer.com. Why this is so important is United need to keep churning out the star power and push the level of the club even higher. The fans demand to compete for, not only the league next season, but also the ever elusive (for MLS, this is our first crack at it) CONCACAF Champions League. Adding a recent Copa Libertadores champion is a good place to start. Here is Pity’s goal to win the Copa Libertadores this past weekend:
4.) Resign Michael Parkhurst
Every indication is that United will make an attempt to resign the club captain and defensive rock, but it needs to be a priority. Much of the passing and beautiful play this club was able to exhibit began out of the defensive end with Parkhurst’s ability to play a pass, skipping lines up towards Almiron or Martinez. Parkhurst also brings the long list of intangibles that this club will be looking for in a long 2019 season.
5.) Do it all fast, 2019 is coming quick
Look, I know the season just ended over the weekend but there are only seventy days before United could take the first kick of their first match in the CONCACAF Champions League. That also means that preseason will begin even earlier than those seventy days. Typically the MLS Cup participants take a few days longer to return than those that don’t make the playoffs, but who knows with this turnaround. I will be expecting United to compete and win the Champions League trophy, but their first-round opponent Herediano can’t be taken lightly. Herediano has made it to a Champions League semi-final, were up 3-0 over Club America as recently as 2015 and beat another Mexican club, Leon, in the group stage. Building this club and bringing in a manager quickly to get a feel for the players and tactics will be essential in hitting the ground running.
Hey, this is my first ever piece with SportsTalkATL.com and I’m beyond excited to be joining the team. I’ll be your guide through this offseason, as MLS can have a zany approach to this part of the calendar, but stay tuned. There will be a great deal to talk about moving forward.