Training

Training Notebook: Closing out the summer transfer window

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The summer transfer window closed Wednesday, marking the end of the time period when Atlanta United may request the International Transfer Certificate (ITC) of a player under contract in another country. The trade window opened July 5.

It was an active window for the club, and on Thursday Carlos Bocanegra met with the media at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground to recap the transfers and discuss the new signings. Here are a few things Atlanta United’s vice president and technical director had to say:

Carlos Bocanegra on each of the four new players

Atlanta United added four players during the summer transfer window: forward Jamal Thiaré, winger Xande Silva, winger Saba Lobzhanidze and midfielder Tristan Muyumba. For each of these players, Bocanegra provided a (very) brief description of their playing styles.

Jamal Thiaré joins Atlanta United as a free agent. The striker last played for French Ligue 1 side Le Havre. Originally from Senegal, Thiaré will be expected to join Miguel Berry as an option to back up starting striker Giorgos Giakoumakis, a player that Bocanegra says Thiaré shares some similarities with.

“A great forward up there. He’s happy to bang and get dirty and run the channels and chase lost causes. He presses. He’s a similar profile to GG [Giorgos Giakoumakis] where they just hustle and they’re not afraid to mix it up.”

One of two wingers added is Xande Silva, who comes to Atlanta United on loan from French side Dijon. Silva was born in Portugal and began his career there before making his way to England. The 26-year-old comes with good experience, having played with West Ham and Nottingham Forest.

“He comes inside a lot. Normally, he plays off the left and he comes inside, can combine off his right foot. He’s right-footed. So we have that ability also, to stretch the team vertically and give them a step.”

Saba Lobjanidze is a player that Bocanegra said his scouting department targeted early. Lobjanidze comes to Atlanta following a decorated career in Georgia. He played for his hometown club Dinamo Tbilisi, helping them win the Georgian Cup and Super Cup, then the Georgian league title a year later. He’s also a regular for the Georgia men’s national team and most recently received a callup to join the squad at the UEFA European Championship Qualifying matches earlier this summer.

“Saba will come inside and combine. He likes to run in behind. He’s energetic. We compared him to a Paul Arriola, Tito Villalba type of profile. Not player-to-player, just more of that profile, that they’re constantly running and constantly on the move.”

Finally, although he signed with the club a few weeks ago at the start of the transfer window, we can’t forget about Tristan Muyumba. The versatile midfielder spent most of his playing career in France before joining the 5-Stripes. And he’s already seen some action for Atlanta United. On July 29 against Cruz Azul, Muyumba made his club debut and put on a strong performance in front of supporters on hand for the Leagues Cup match.

“You guys have seen him play. He’s got that technical ability. He’s got that ability to combine and also play defense. He’s kind of an all-action guy. But really, he’s helping us solidify that middle.”

Around 10 days, or two weeks, is what Bocanegra hopes is the timetable to receive the visas for the other three players so they can join Muyumba and train with the team. Overall, the vice president and technical director is looking for the new acquisitions to bring some juice during the final 10 matches of the regular season and lift the team to make a run to the MLS Cup Playoffs.

“We feel like we added some pieces that can really energize the team and give us some more in this stretch,” Bocanegra said.

Stabilizing the backline

Though none of the players that Atlanta United signed during this transfer window are pure defenders, the idea is that adding more versatility and dynamism to the attack and the midfield will create a ripple effect for the rest of the roster. By signing attackers, the front office wanted to give the entire team more balance.

“We feel pretty good about how the roster is constructed with the balance and to be able to go forward,” Bocanegra said.

Adding two wingers, along with the recall of Edwin Mosquera who's seen minutes in Atlanta's last four matches, affects a few of Atlanta’s active players. Bocanegra cited times during the previous months when Caleb Wiley and Brooks Lennon had to fill in on the wing. Both of them play fullback and are most needed on the backline. Bocanegra called Wiley’s defending “fantastic” against Cruz Azul as he often matched up with one of the team’s most dangerous attacking players. So signing more depth to the attack should, essentially, give the defense some as well.

Atlanta United will also get some depth back with the return of one of the league’s top defenders, Miles Robinson. The center back missed significant time while on international duty with the U.S. men’s national team at the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup tournaments. All in all, Robinson missed six matches and five weeks of training, making a return in the Leagues Cup match against Inter Miami CF. Robinson, along with Wiley and Lennon secured at fullback, will help stabilize the backline and sure up Atlanta's defense heading into the final stretch of the MLS regular season.

MLS meets Europe

All four of the players that Atlanta United signed have ties to Europe. Muyumba, Thiaré and Silva previously played for French teams. While it wasn’t necessarily purposeful to bring in only players from Europe, it was just how it worked this time around.

“We looked at a lot of different leagues and we looked at a lot of players this window,” Bocanegra said. “You try to be opportunistic with your signings and try to get value. We feel that that league is pretty darn athletic and translates here also.”

Muyumba seemed to prove that point during his club debut against Cruz Azul. The midfielder, who was brought up in the youth system of AS Monaco, looked the part in his first time wearing the 5-Stripes, finishing the match tied for second on the team in completed passes (54) and third in total touches (77).

“Fortunately, we were able to able to execute on our plan and get the pieces in,” Bocanegra said. “We’re able to now have a group that we feel we have good balance. We have good competition at the positions around the field and really help stabilize for the back half of the year and beyond.”

How to recruit for Atlanta United

During the availability, Bocanegra shared a little insight on how he and his staff pitch to potential signings. He recalled early in the process recruiting players like Miguel Almirón for the inaugural season. He met with Miggy at a Hilton in Argentina. Bocanegra said that back then it was about “selling a dream.” They talked about what the stadium would look like, what the training facility was going to look like even before those facilities had come to fruition.

Now, things are different. Atlanta United is in its seventh season in the league. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is an established and highly ranked experience. The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground is the place where players train every day and where the staff works. On top of that, MLS is gaining more recognition around the world, most recently attracting world-class talent such as Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets.

The evolution of the league as a whole is a positive, but Bocanegra admits it's made the recruiting process more challenging. The market is more competitive. MLS clubs are willing to spend more money. So now, Bocanegra’s task is to sell players on how, and why, Atlanta is different.

“You hear about L.A., Miami and New York, right? Everybody kind of knows those cities. But Atlanta is a pretty darn cool city as well, so showing and highlighting that, that’s been really useful,” he said.

The staff at Atlanta United works hard to ensure that new players are taken care of. Bocanegra cited the quality chefs and staff the club employs that makes sure players are taken care of physically. Player liaisons assist with getting accustomed to a new city or country and getting set up with things like bank accounts and new phones. The digital and creative departments created a recruitment packet to inform and educate new players about the club and surrounding area.

“Arthur [Blank], from the top, is really about putting people first, so to speak, and that really shows through,” Bocanegra said. “I think you hear it from the employees, and you’ve been around the club long enough that you see that, so I think that gets around and people want to be here... This organization has done of a fantastic job of giving us the resources, not only on the field but off the field.”

Xande Silva ready to work

One of Atlanta United newest signings also spoke with the media on Thursday. Winger Xande Silva from Portugal took to the podium not long after Bocanegra, wearing a black Atlanta United polo to introduce himself to local reporters. The 5-foot-10 player joins Atlanta United on loan from the French club Dijon. His loan lasts the remainder of the season with an option to purchase.

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Silva can play multiple positions, describing himself as someone who just “enjoys football.” But when asked with what position he feels most comfortable playing, his answer was left wing.

“I’m a very fast player,” he said. “Good, technically and 1v1. I’m here to work and improve myself and help the team.”

Although Silva can’t yet train with the team, pending the receipt of his International Transfer Certificate (ITC) and P-1 Visa, the winger seems more than ready to hit the pitch. To almost every answer he talked about the value he has for putting in the work and wants to help his teammates, which is something he credited learning in Europe.

“Work is important. It’s very important,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are there. You’ve got to work. It’s not because you’re there then you’re going to play. There’s a lot of players around you. You need to prove yourself that you’re better than them, to yourself and the coach as well.”

“I’m very glad to be here,” he added. “I’m here to work and help my teammates and the club achieve everything.”

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