Three interesting storylines to follow in the MLS offseason, including Atlanta and the Galaxy

Written By Harrison Hamm on December 18, 2020

The MLS offseason is in full swing.

The offseason features a gauntlet of player acquisition methods, including various drafts, options, transfers, trades, and free agency. Like anywhere else, that means Silly Season is upon us.

We’re looking at some of the more interesting storylines of the offseason. To start, let’s look at a pair of sleeping giants, and then we’ll get to the biggest move of the offseason so far.

Can Atlanta United get back to dominance?

This past season was a disaster for Atlanta United. They saw Josef Martinez go down for the season early on, and year two of Frank de Boer ended up flaming out in chaotic fashion. As it turns out, demolishing most of your core in one offseason to fit the vision of an apparently visionless coach is not a good roster-building strategy.

Now, they’re trying to turn the ship around. They’ve ended their honeymoon period as a franchise — they’re going to have to do some hard work now to make up for the mistakes of the past two years. It’s a clean slate, to some extent, with a new coach arriving (rumored to be Gabriel Heinze) and a new set of core players arriving at some point. New signings in central midfield and on the wing should accompany current players like George Bello. With Martinez back, they have no excuse not to be a contender.

The LA Galaxy’s search for competence

The Galaxy took the whole year to figure themselves out, and still haven’t done it. Chicharito never looked comfortable and has not been effective. Guillermo Barros Schelotto was fired, and now it’s time for the Galaxy to find a coach who can build a functional system. While they might face a tough task bringing back Cristian Pavon, a star whose loan from Boca Juniors is up, they will have Jonathan dos Santos back from injury and presumably a rejuvenated Chicharito.

It would be surprising if Atlanta and LA aren’t back in the thick of it next year. They’re big market teams with resources to bring in top-tier players and coaches, and they both have young developing talent (don’t fumble it away, Galaxy). It will be fascinating to watch how they approach a return to contention.

A new-look NYCFC

In the biggest move of the young offseason, NYCFC traded centerpiece midfielder Alexander Ring to expansion Austin FC for up to $1.25 million in allocation money, $750k of which is guaranteed. That is a significant total, and it’s a big pivot for NYC, who have had Ring as a crucial contributor since 2017.

It’s a gamble, but a reasonable one. Ring is 29 and one of the best players in his position, meaning his value will never be higher than it is now. NYCFC have multiple younger midfielders that they would like to see play more minutes, including Keaton Parks and James Sands, the latter of whom seems to benefit the most from this deal. There’s also 21-year-old Nicolas Acevedo, who played only occasionally this season but was signed from Liverpool and has been a big fixture for Uruguayan youth teams. Minutes open for Acevedo with Ring’s departure.

NYC will enter 2021 expecting the full return of Heber, who was inconsistent until going out for the year with an ACL. They have other veterans to build around who have been part of their core for years. Their biggest question marks for next year, then, are Ring’s replacements in midfield and the new players they bring in to surround Heber and Maxi Moralez in attack. They could potentially assemble an elite team if all goes well.

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