It may either be a coincidence or a first-world problem that three of the four players that Atlanta United have yet to either re-sign or move on without are also three positions in which the Five Stripes have promising Homegrown players.
Atlanta United has three on-loan players, left midfielder Yamil Asad, left fullback Greg Garza and right fullback Anton Walkes, as well as one possible free agent Jeff Larentowicz. During last week’s season-ending media session, Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra said internal discussions are ongoing about Asad, Garza and Larentowicz and if they will return to Atlanta United. He wasn’t asked about Walkes.
Setting aside the possibility of simply extending the loan by another year.
Bringing some or all of those players back isn’t as simple as Bocanegra saying, “Yes, we want them back.”
Contract terms must be agreed upon, including years and salary.
Let’s tackle salary first.
What Asad, 23 years old, or Garza, 26, value themselves may be much different than how Atlanta United values them. While they each contributed to the Five Stripes becoming the first expansion team since Seattle in 2009 to advance to the playoffs, were their contributions significantly unique enough for club President Darren Eales and Bocanegra to decide that value should be reflected in an increased salary? Asad and Garza had guaranteed salaries of $150,000. Could other players have been slotted in at a lesser salary and produced similar results? Atlanta United has invested heavily in data-driven scouting and review. They would know.
So, let’s say Atlanta United wants to bring them back and the players want to return.
MLS rules aren’t forgiving. Both contracts would have to be purchased from the player’s clubs. Asad is tied to Velez Sarsfield in Argentina and Garza to Tijuana in Mexico. Should the fee to buy the player, known as a transfer fee, and his salary, exceed more $480,625, he is classified as a Designated Player. Teams are only allowed three DPs. Atlanta United has three in Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba.
However, MLS invented something it calls Allocation Money, which is a collection of funds given to each team that, among other uses, allows them to “buy down” the salaries of DPs as long as the team then replaces that DP with another.
In this example, should Asad’s budget charge exceed $480,625, Atlanta United could go to one of its other three DPs and use a portion of its $1.2 million (example, not its actual amount) in Allocation Money to “buy down” that player’s salary. One DP would be replaced by another. Here’s the rub: Almiron has a guaranteed salary of almost $2.3 million, so he can’t be bought down. The choice would come down to either Martinez ($1 million) or Villalba ($770,750). After the contributions both made last season, at some point their agents are likely going to want to renegotiate those contracts to give their players more money.
But let’s say the money can be moved around to acquire those players.
Now, the question becomes how many years should Atlanta United sign the players, and here’s where the Homegrown players enter the discussion.
Though right-footed, midfielder Andrew Carleton could play on the left where Asad was last season. Or he could move to the middle or right with Almiron and Villalba shifted around. Holding midfielder Chris Goslin could slide in for Larentowicz. George Bello is considered one of the best left backs in any MLS academy.
It’s doubtful that all three Homegrown players would be expected to step in during the 2018 season and play as many minutes as Asad (2,765 minutes), Larentowicz (2,602) and Garza (2,150) did during the 2017 season. Think about the adage in college football: starting one true freshmen is equal to one loss at some point in the season. Players who are 17 years old, as are Carleton and Goslin, just don’t have the experience to handle that much of a workload or the expectations of a team that will likely be among the favorites to compete for the 2018 MLS Cup.
But it is anticipated that Carleton and Goslin will play this upcoming season. Bocanegra said as much during his interview session. Their teammates agreed, with several pointing to Carleton as a player who could be impactful in 2018.
So, would it be smart of Atlanta United to acquire Asad or re-sign Larentowicz to anything more than a one-year deal if Carleton and Goslin are expected to become full-time players in 2019?
To that end, would Asad and Larentowicz be happy splitting minutes with those players during the 2018 season? They are team players and would likely do whatever is asked, but most pro athletes want to play as much as possible.