Though 2017 proved to be an impressive inaugural season for Atlanta United, the club has all eyes ahead, making some massive this moves this offseason to gear up for chapter two. And while more quality means more inter-squad competition, the players know it’s the path to success.
“You always want to improve,” said Captain Michael Parkhurst, “it doesn’t matter how you did last year, you want to get better and push the envelope and the staff did that for us. So, it’s great competition for spots.”
Among the new acquisitions for Atlanta are Darlington Nagbe – acquired from Portland for an inter-MLS record transfer – as well as 18-year-old Argentine Ezequiel Barco who was announced just last week as the all-time biggest transfer in MLS history.
When asked about Barco, Parkhurst commented, “We expect him to be a difference maker for us and somebody that slots directly into the lineup. Darlington is a fantastic player as well, really respected throughout the league for what he can do on the field, a good guy off the field as well….Definitely guys that are going to push us to be better and push everybody for starting spots and that’s what you want. You want competition.”
Now a veteran with eight MLS seasons under his belt, the Atlanta United captain has witnessed the progression of the league first-hand. He understands that these types of statements – spending big to bring in premier talent – not only improve the club in the short-term, but impact the outlook of the league on a larger scale.
“We’re pushing the envelope for the entire league and it’s a great thing,” said Parkhurst. “We pushed it last year and we did it again this offseason. We’re not going to be a team that’s just satisfied with what we’ve done in the past or who we have on the roster right now. It’s a statement to the league that any player out there can come to MLS.”
Another league veteran and member of the inaugural ATL UTD squad, midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, also expressed his anticipation for the year two roster reinforcements.
“It makes this squad strong, makes us pretty multidimensional and gives the coaches options,” said the 34-year-old. “I think for me as a player it means everyone is going to be fighting to get in the eleven. It’s good.”
Inter-squad competition can be intimidating, for new players looking to impress as well as the talented youngster hoping to break into the first team. But the experienced players know that while it may be more challenging, it’s the key to becoming an elite club, fielding the best team and ultimately winning championships.
“Probably the most exciting part of it is that it shows the ambition of the club and where we want to go as a club,” said U.S. international goalkeeper Brad Guzan. “We knew going into the start of the season we had a very good team just based off of last year. But when you add players like that, it’s not only going to one, make us better, but two, it’s going to push everyone in terms of training, fighting for spots, competition on the field and that’s what you want. Because at the end of the day you’ll get the best out of players. When you do that it creates a winning environment.”
The 2018 preseason has just begun but Atlanta United’s second season is just weeks away. As the newly constructed Five Stripes take the field, they’ll hope to dazzle the Atlanta faithful and exceed the high expectations of this season just as they did in 2017. Single-match tickets just went on sale to the general public, make sure to reserve your spot here.