It’s hard to escape Atlanta United these days, especially after they went and won the stinking MLS Cup in their second year as a club.
Annoying as it is to see a much younger conference rival accomplish so much in such a short period of time, there are already signs that all the attention the team has garnered could pay off for other teams in the league as well. Possibly even for the Philadelphia Union.
One indication of this came during a media conference call with new Union striker Sergio Santos last week.
Speaking through a translator, Santos made reference to Ezequiel Barco, the 19-year-old Atlanta United midfielder from Argentina, as an example of the development opportunity that exists in the U.S.
Santos isn’t Barco by any stretch. He’s five years older and much cheaper (Barco was acquired for a reported $15 million transfer fee and made $1.4 million this season). But it’s not insignificant that the Union were able to beat Liga MX club Necaxa to his signature with less money on the table.
Sporting Director Ernst Tanner confirmed last week that the Union paid a $500,000 buyout clause and are using targeted allocation money to buy down his salary cap hit to put him below the designated player level ($504,375 in 2018).
“One of the things that really drew me to the United States and MLS is that it offers me a great opportunity to become a better player and become a very distinct player in how I play the game,” Santos said through a translator. “The Union front office came down to meet me in Chile and to kind of understand and get to know me as a player and I thought that was very interesting that they took the time to come all the way down there and see who I was as a player and try to get to know me a bit.”
Tanner echoed those comments in his remarks during a conference call earlier on Friday.
“I don’t think that he was going for the money, that’s obvious,” Tanner said. “He was going for his development and that’s what we made clear to him that he would get to do in Philadelphia and obviously it was convincing to him.”
Tanner promised that Santos wouldn’t be the last signing this off-season, noting that there could be news coming in early January, which means this move could (fingers crossed) be overshadowed yet by a higher-profile designated player signing.
“I think MLS is emerging and the platform we are offering to players is not bad,” he said. “There is also a lot of interest coming from over here in Europe.”
Thanks, Atlanta United?