After elimination, what’s next for Atlanta United?

10:11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 27, 2017 Sports
Miguel Martinez/MundoHispanico
Columbus Crew defender Josh Williams consoles Atlanta United's Hector Villalba after Atlanta was eliminated in a shoot-out of the first round of the MLS playoffs.

Atlanta United’s players obviously were disappointed after Thursday’s loss to Columbus in a penalty-kick shootout in the MLS playoffs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

Though it can be difficult to enjoy sustained success in MLS because of its parity-focused rules, Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino and the players are focused on creating sustained success.

“Our commitment is that we’re going to continue to improve and get better,” Martino said.

Atlanta United finished the regular season with the second-highest goal total (70) and goal difference (30). It came within a Sebastian Giovinco free kick in the final 10 minutes of the finale of securing a second seed in the playoffs. The team played an exciting style of soccer that helped the franchise set and break attendance records in the regular season and the playoffs.

Atlanta United players send fans ‘thanks’

“I think it was a good season,” Martino said. “I can’t deny that it was a good season because we started from nothing. But once we formed the team that we did with the players we had, that’s all we can classify it as: a good season. Because once we had the players and all the talks we had amongst ourselves in the locker room, this team wanted to go a lot further.”

Now, the second season will begin.

It will be interesting. 

The team’s offense, led by Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba and Yamil Asad, was young and dynamic. The team’s defense, led by Brad Guzan, Michael Parkhurst, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Jeff Larentowicz and Carlos Carmona, was steady and experienced.

Martino said he and technical director Carlos Bocanegra will soon begin looking at the roster. There are several decisions that must be made regarding on-loan players Greg Garza (from Tijuana), Asad (from Velez Sarsfield) and Anton Walkes (from Tottenham Hotspur) who were instrumental in the team becoming the first MLS expansion team to make the playoffs since Seattle in 2009.

There are reported rumors of interest from Arsenal and Inter Milan in Almiron, who had nine goals and 13 assists. He has described those reports as rumors. But there likely will be more inquires into Atlanta United’s trio of Designated Players, which will require tough decisions when the transfer window opens in February.

There may be an expansion draft for LAFC. If the rules are the same as they were for last year’s draft for Atlanta United and Minnesota United, the team can protect 11 players, with exceptions for Homegrown Players. The team would have to decide who to protect and who who to leave exposed.

Additionally, Atlanta United has announced that there are three Homegrown players who will be added to what is now an already full roster in January. That means that, unless the league expands the rosters, at least three players will be moved either by a trade or by being released.

Plus, there are the two on-loan players at Charleston: Romario Williams, who had a productive season with the Battery, and Jeffrey Otoo, who didn’t.

And there are two players who signed as free agents: Larentowicz and Jacob Peterson, and those such as Kenwyne Jones who have bigger contracts, but who didn’t play many minutes.

But those decisions will come later.

Thursday night was about dealing with the loss and thanking the supporters, who added a new element to the gameday experience with a cellphone light display late in Thursday’s game.

“I’m going to look back on it with a lot of pride, a lot of joy (and) a lot of great memories,” Parkhurst said. “It’s just amazing to play in front of this crowd on a weekly basis or a biweekly basis. It’s really indescribable. The amount of support that we’ve gotten throughout the season has just been fantastic and we couldn’t ask for more from the city of Atlanta. 

“The people, the support that we’ve gotten – it’s been incredible. That’s what we’re going to remember most that we built this fan base. Hopefully, they’ll be back again next year and we can continue to keep building and building and make sure that we cement it for a long time.”

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