Whoever replaces Martino — several news reports have pointed to Guillermo Barros Schelotto of Boca Juniors, a former M.L.S. player, as a top candidate — will have only weeks to settle in before the Champions League kicks off.
“I think that’s the biggest challenge they have,” Lagerwey said, adding, “They have to get a new coach to come in and be consistent with their philosophy and identity.”
In Martino’s departure, announced before the end of the regular season, Atlanta United also will lose a major recruiting piece. The team’s South American stars Miguel Almirón and Josef Martínez both cited Martino, known as Tata, as a primary reason they joined the club, sight unseen, before its first-ever game.
But now Almirón could be on the way out; the 24-year-old Paraguayan, who had 12 goals and 14 assists this year, is reportedly headed to Europe. Martinez, who set the M.L.S. single-season scoring record with 31 goals en route to most valuable player honors this season, could depart for the right offer, too.
That is not to say this was not all by design. Darren Eales, Atlanta United’s president, said the team fully expected Martino to depart after two years. And the team has already reportedly found a replacement for Almirón: Gonzalo Martinez of Argentina’s River Plate, who is expected to join this off-season. Also waiting in the wings is Ezequiel Barco, the 18-year-old who was signed in January for a league-record transfer fee.
“It’s really about how you’re positioned in terms of replacements, how you’re building the culture around the club,” Eales said in explaining the team’s roster-building mentality, adding, “There’s that journey of understanding the global nature of the game and coming to terms with it.”
For Atlanta, and M.L.S., it is not just about filling roster holes, however. Identifying and developing young players with the intention of selling them has been at the core of Atlanta United’s business model from the start. It is a process the league acknowledges needs to happen more often for the league to grow. Already this year, M.L.S. has seen the departures of promising young players like Vancouver’s Alphonso Davies (to Bayern Munich) and Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams (to Germany’s RB Leipzig).