Atlanta United arrived in Major League Soccer in 2017 and promptly delivered exciting and entertaining soccer, while their fans broke attendance records. Topping that memorable first season won't be easy, but the Five Stripes spent the offseason trying their best to ensure the encore will be even better.
The record-setting signing of Argentine sensation Ezequiel Barco, coupled with the acquisition of Darlington Nagbe, has Atlanta looking capable of being an even more dangerous attacking side than it was a year ago, which is a scary thought for defenses that already had trouble dealing with the Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez-led unit.
Not all is rosy for Gerardo "Tata" Martino's squad, though. The loss of Carlos Carmona this winter leaves a big hole in Atlanta's midfield, and took some some much-needed defensive bite from a team that will likely have to rely more on its attack to remain one of the top clubs in the East.
That's fine with Martino, who loves to throw numbers forward and just might have the most stacked offense in MLS heading into the new season.
How did Atlanta United perform in 2017?
2017 finish: Fourth in the Eastern Conference (15-9-10), eliminated in knockout round.
The results took a while to come for the first-year team, but the exciting soccer was there from the start and Atlanta hit its stride in the summer months, with the club really reaching top form after moving into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. A four-match winless skid at the end of the season offered a sign that there might be trouble in the playoffs, and that's what United found, falling to the Columbus Crew in a thriller.
Atlanta United's key offseason losses
Atlanta had plenty of plans that went according to script this winter, but losing Carlos Carmona was an unanticipated blow. Seeing their defensive midfielder leave via a transfer leaves Atlanta with a clear void in the middle of the park, and it will be up to Nagbe to help offset that loss.
Yamil Asad was traded to D.C. United, and while his replacement has already been lined up, Atlanta could find itself missing some of the two-way qualities he provided. Forward Kenwyne Jones also left Atlanta, but he won't be missed after being reduced to a bit part role.
Defensively, the right back position was revamped, with Anton Walkes returning to England and Tyrone Mears sent packing as well.
Atlanta United's key offseason additions
The $15 million transfer of Ezequiel Barco turned heads across the league, if not the world, and the pressure will be on the 18-year-old sensation to deliver. The former Huracan star should step in and make an immediate impact, though he is still young and could take some time to fully adapt.
Darlington Nagbe was a dream pickup for Tata Martino, who adds one of the league's best midfielders and a player who can give Atlanta a different element, with his ability to hold the ball bringing something that was lacking for the club a year ago.
Sal Zizzo and Franco Escobar should revamp the right back position, while Venezuelan Under-20 defender Jose Hernandez gives Atlanta depth at left back.
Atlanta scored an impressive draft-day haul as well, adding promising forwards Jon Gallagher and Gordon Wild, as well as Everton academy product Oliver Shannon.
Full Atlanta United roster entering 2018 season
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Mitch Hildebrandt, Alec Cann
Defenders: Mikey Ambrose, George Bello, Franco Escobar, Greg Garza, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Jose Hernandez, Michael Parkhurst, Miles Robinson, Sal Zizzo
Midfielders: Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Andrew Carleton, Chris Goslin, Julian Gressel, Kevin Kratz, Jeff Larentowicz, Chris McCann, Darlington Nagbe, Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu, Oliver Shannon
Forwards: Jon Gallagher, Lagos Kunga, Josef Martinez, Brandon Vasquez, Hector Villalba, Gordon Wild, Romario Williams
Atlanta United's projected starting lineup
The loss of Carmona will likely force Atlanta to deploy Nagbe in a box-to-box midfield role, and potentially in a defensive midfield role if Larentowicz can't hold up and if the club doesn't succeed in finding reinforcements in the current transfer window.
Larentowicz will be key for Atlanta. He is 34 years old but has been durable throughout his career, having played more than 2,600 minutes for the seventh time in eight seasons during the 2017 campaign. Atlanta will need at least that many minutes from him in 2018.
Reigning MLS Rookie of the Year Gressel will be fighting for minutes as well, and could be deployed in a central role when necessary while also being shifted to the wing whenever cover is needed for Barco or Villalba.
The battle for the starting right back spot between Escobar and Zizzo is one to keep an eye on, with the young Argentine looking like the favorite over the MLS veteran.
Could Martino find some minutes for U.S. U-17 international Goslin? The promising defensive midfielder may not be ready to be the full-time starter, but could find himself helping fill the void at times. Atlanta fans will be clamoring for Carleton to get minutes, but he is likely to find a tougher time getting on the field for the first team than Goslin in 2018.
Second-year defender Robinson is another youngster who could find some minutes to help lighten the load on Parkhurst.
Atlanta United's national TV coverage
Houston Dynamo vs. Atlanta United - Saturday, March 3, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision
Atlanta United vs. D.C. United - Sunday, March 11, at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN
Atlanta United vs. Los Angeles FC - Saturday, April 7, at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN
Atlanta United vs. New York City FC - Sunday, April 15, at 6 p.m. ET on FS1
Orlando City vs. Atlanta United - Sunday, May 13, at 6 p.m. ET on FS1
Atlanta United vs. New York Red Bulls - Sunday, May 20, at 7 p.m. ET on FS1
Atlanta United vs. Portland Timbers - Sunday, June 24, at 4:30 p.m. ET on Fox
Atlanta United vs. Orlando City - Saturday, June 30, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
Atlanta United vs. Seattle Sounders - Sunday, July 15, at 2 p.m. ET on Fox
Atlanta United vs. D.C. United - Saturday, July 21, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision
Atlanta United vs. Toronto FC - Saturday, Aug. 4, at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN
Orlando City vs. Atlanta United - Friday, Aug. 24, at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
D.C. United vs. Atlanta United - Sunday, Sept. 2, at 5:30 p.m. ET on FS1
Colorado Rapids vs. Atlanta United - Saturday, Sept. 15, at 3:30 p.m. ET on UniMas
New York Red Bulls vs. Atlanta United - Sunday, Sept. 30, at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN
Atlanta United vs. New England Revolution - Saturday, Oct. 6, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision