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The Hunt for (a) Red (in) October: Who Could Replace Miguel Almiron?

But all good things gotta come to an end-a – Kanye West

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The British are coming. So, too, are the Italians, at least if we’re to believe this story from the Italian website Calcio Mercato that purports Inter Milan and Arsenal are keeping a close eye on Miguel Almiron. The Atlanta faithful have been thrown into disarray: rioting and looting plague Little Five, Edgewood, and Cabagetown. Thousands of Dancing Goats coffees are being poured out in protest. Some reports suggest that supporters groups are disbanding en masse after realizing that the sport of soccer is not just an elaborate backdrop for “Miggy Smiles” memes. The Atlanta United FC Fans Facebook group is on the brink of collapse. A nation is in shambles.

But is this one-off report of interest from clubs that had already expressed interest in the young Paraguayan before his move to the States as problematic as a cursory reading might suggest? Quite emphatically, no, and for a number of reasons. First, as the AJC’s Doug Roberson pointed out, aside from the nebulous and often meaningless nature of being on a club’s list of potential players, MLS sides are rarely keen to send their players abroad. This is largely due to the labyrinthine rules MLS has regarding salary cap, allocation of transfer fees, and league and club investment requirements.

The article suggests that Almiron might be worth as much as €25 million. Yet, because of how MLS has structured its transfer policy, this would only give Atlanta United a mere $650,000 of General Allocation Money (GAM), money which can be paid to players in excess of the salary cap. This spreadsheet by the ever-insightful Tiotal Football breaks down the specifics (for more info on GAM, TAM, and the other Seussesque MLS acronyms, check his article on the matter here):

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Almiron is clearly a phenomenal player, even by European standards, and the Five Stripes will be hard pressed to hold onto him forever. But Miguel is becoming a hallmark of the burgeoning Atlanta United brand; is the upside for Darren Eales and Co. enough to justify selling him on after a mere season?

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Photo credit: MLS

Ultimately, that’s a question for the Atlanta front office. It’s also not the one I’ve set out to answer in this article. Instead, I’m going to assume the worst: that Arsene Wenger beat Tata Martino in a bare-knuckle boxing match on some foggy London dock, the stakes of which were Almiron’s signature. Conservatively assuming we get €20 million (appx. $23.6 million) out of the deal, who could we acquire that might sufficiently replicate our star #10’s electric attacking play?

Of course, at the end of the day, this list will be pure conjecture, but in an effort to make it as legitimate of a project as possible, I’m going to try and establish an objective framework for assessing whether or not a player can be considered equivalent to (or better than) Almiron. This has to begin with defining, to put it crassly, what makes Miguel so Miggy. (Disgusting, I know). He is, of course, a string-pulling attacking midfielder with a mind for unselfishness in the final third, but a hard look at the data reveals several other aspects of Almiron’s game that a potential successor would need to recreate, and perhaps more importantly, numbers they would need to match.

I’m going to aim for only including players that hover around these stats (when all data can be found). There is an intentional gap between the numbers prospects must meet be near and Miguel’s in order to adjust for the difficulty of European and, to a lesser extent, some South American competitions. (In all likelihood, Almiron would start off as a rotation player if he went to Arsenal or Inter.)

  • Age: 26

  • Shots per game: ≥ 1.5 (Miguel: 2.9)

  • Passes per game @ X% success: ≥ 30 ppg @ 75% success (42.3 @ 80.7%) (zonally, when available)

  • Expected goals + expected assists: ≥ 71 xG+xA (13.6)

  • And purely for fun – FIFA rating: ≥ 75 (79)

As already discussed, because of all the financial smoke and mirrors, the entirety of that $23.6 million wouldn’t be Atlanta United’s to spend on a new player. That being said, Arthur Blank is an astute man with deep pockets; if he sold on his marquee star, I’m optimistic he’d be willing to splash some cash for a replacement. Almiron’s near $3 million salary would also be freed up, which I expect is probably the bare minimum anyone stud European would expect to be paid. This means we’re probably safe to look at players that with a market value around $10-20 million. I’m going to use market value data from Transfermarkt, but keep in mind that these just are reasonable estimates of what a player could be worth. As last summer’s transfer window should have made clear, clubs almost never ask for a “reasonable amount.”

With all of this in mind, here are five players that meet the performance metrics, fall in our price range, and whom I feel could be keen on an MLS move.

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Photo: Journal de Noticias

Otávio Edmilson da Silva Monteiro is a 22-year-old Brazilian currently playing for FC Porto, who sit atop Portugal’s Liga NOS after eight games. Otávio’s featured in five of those eight but is yet to score. This seeming lack of productivity shouldn’t take away from his talent, though. Porto is a Champions League quality side, and Hector Herrera and Oliver Torres (who I would be listing instead of Otávio if I weren’t outright positive MLS is not on his radar) are not easy names to beat into the team sheet. Last season, our boy Otávio managed seven assists and two goals in just 21 appearances across all competitions. He’s shifty, quick on the break, and a magical technician. Check this out:

His stats aren’t a perfect analog to Almiron’s, but his sample size is much smaller, as well as from a considerably more competitive league:

Apps (2016/2017): 21 (1619 minutes)

  • SpG: 1.2 (2017/18)
  • PpG @ X%: 29.5 @ 76.3% (2016/17)

  • xG + xA: N/A (actual: 9)

  • FIFA rating: 77

Transfermarkt has him valued at $8.26 million, about exactly what we paid for Almiron. Such a sum would be a steal for a player with Champions League experience, and given that Otávio is struggling to make himself a mainstay in Sérgio Conceição’s squad, the prospect of MLS superstardom might prove alluring.

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Photo: Getty Images

Some 20 years on, when Atlanta United is regarded as the club that paved the way for MLS to compete with Europe, imagine if we spoke of “Los Tres Cazadores” (or some other overwrought nickname) in hushed, reverent tones, three young Argentinians that delivered American soccer to the promised land: Yamil Assad, Tito Villalba, and…Cristian Pavón. A pacey right winger by trade, Pavón has graduated from the youth prospect ranks to become an integral part of a strong Boca Juniors outfit. He’s been making Primera Division defenders look like clowns with his skill on the flanks, an in addition to laser-guided crosses, Pavón can shoot like he’s Bradley Cooper in American Sniper; that is to say, very well.

A player like Pavón would do less to perfectly mirror Almiron than he would ease the burden on both Villalba and Josef Martinez. He can serve as creator and finisher. Slotting in behind Martinez might work well, or, if Tata Martino were feeling adventurous, perhaps a  lineup alteration could be warranted

Apps (2016/2017): 30 (2585 minutes)

  • SpG: 2.7

  • PpG @ X%: 30.4 @ 74.7% 

  • xG + xA: N/A (actual: 18)

  • FIFA rating: 75

At last estimate, Pavón was worth $15.36 million. For a player of his caliber, though, the call of Europe might be too seductive – once upon a time, he was linked to Liverpool. Atlanta United would have to fight for his services, but Asad (should we purchase him at the end of his loan) and Villalba might go a long way in convincing their compatriot to come to the Peach State.

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Photo: Getty Images

In FIFA 16, I had a Stoke City career mode that was probably the most faithful attempt at a realistic playthrough I’ve ever done. Which is to say instead of gunning for the big names, I took a money ball approach that, while still wildly untenable for the real-life Potters, was tame by career mode standards. In my attacking build up, all roads led to Roberto Pereyra, then a 24-year-old fighting for minutes at Juventus. He’s since moved to Watford but only featured in 13 games due to a nasty knee injury in picked up early December. He managed two goals and two assists in that truncated season, which, all things considered, is not too shabby. Pereyra has a delicious upright play style that makes his attacks look effortless and is an excellent passer of the ball with both feet. Once in the box, his position and the extremity of the angle are irrelevant; he can score.


(Do yourself a favor and mute the sound on this video.)

Pereyra is arguably the most similar to Almiron in how he approaches chance creation. Bringing him in would require little to no tactical alterations.

Apps (2016/2017): 13 (1044 minutes)

  • SpG: 0.7 (definitely on the lower side)

  • PpG @ X%: 32.3 @ 82.6%

  • xG + xA: 7 (adjusted for equivalent minutes)

  • FIFA rating: 80

A minor groin injury has kept him from regaining a foothold, having made just one start in four appearances. Pereyra coming to the States would be entirely contingent upon Watford seeing him as a squandered investment. MLS’ primary transfer window is from early February to early May, but they can still negotiate transfers outside of this period. If Almiron were gone this winter, Pereyra, who is also an Argentine, might see the light in reinvigorating his career with the Five Stripes. $17.72 million is a pretty penny, but maybe if we’re extra good, Uncle Arthur will splurge this Christmas. Or would it be Hannukah? I’m toeing a dangerous line…

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Wylan Cyprien sounds like the name of a mid-range Trader Joe’s wine, but he’s actually a 22-year-old Frenchman lighting up Ligue 1 for OGC Nice. Before sustaining a cruciate ligament rupture in March, he channeled a startling amount of the Nice attack, notching eight goals and three assists in domestic play. With his striding, gazelle-like streaks through the middle of the pitch and propensity to take shots from deep, Cyprien is somewhat reminiscent of Paul Pogba. This second point, though, can be a negative, as he missed or had saved or blocked 22 shots from outside of the box last season (which could account for his relatively low xG number). Against weaker MLS keepers, however, a couple more of those might fly in.

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This video illustrates:

Apps (2016/2017): 27 (2433 minutes)

  • SpG: 1.8

  • PpG @ X%: 71.8 @ 89.2% (wow)

  • xG + xA: 5.74 (see: long shot spiel)

  • FIFA rating: 79

Cyprien has yet to return for Nice, and there is little chatter on the web indicating when he might be healed up. Could that bode well for Atlanta United? I imagine it might if the scenario were such: while he’s still injured, we buy Cyprien for more than his $11.82 million valuation – allowing Nice to net $7-8 million – and then take on the onus of rehabilitation. It’s a risk, but one that could pay dividends. Romain Alessandrini is the only French player of note in MLS. What if Atlanta locked down a budding star from a large European country that is notoriously dissatisfied with its own pro league? The deciding factor would be garnering his interest. Southampton was alleged to have him high on their list, and I’d gander to say clubs on the continent have taken notice, as well.

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I hate to reinforce prejudice, but while abroad this summer, I realized that the stereotype holds up: Germans love precision. Emil Forsberg is the Mercedes-Benz of this list – or maybe the Volvo, given that he’s actually Swedish – and such a metaphor reveals the Bundesliga star’s no-nonsense drive (even if outside of the game, he’s not always so sensible), tailored passing, and agility in tight spaces. It also hints at his price tag. Since the ever-controversial RB Leipzig purchased him for some $4 million back in 2015, the 25-year-old’s stock has continually risen. If we wanted to get him, we’d have to shell out north of $26 million, meaning Atlanta would break the record for most expensive transfer in order to replace the player they previously broke that record with.

This one is self-consciously ambitious. Really ambitious. Manchester United, Arsenal, and Liverpool were all keen to sign Forsberg this summer, and he could cause renewed frenzy come winter. And why wouldn’t he? The dude nabbed eight goals and 19 assists last season.

Apps (2016/2017): 27 (2349 minutes)

  • SpG: 1.6

  • PpG @ X%: 28.3 @ 76.2% (3.1 key passes per game is the highest on this list)

  • xG + xA: 18.12

  • FIFA rating: 83

Forsberg prefers to play out left, but in MLS, he’d have no problem calling the shots from the middle. The tape and hype speak for themselves – Forsberg is a genuine talent. We could convince him to ply his trade for the Five Stripes, though, if Atlanta United (read: Arthur Blank) fully committed themselves to the role of MLS pioneer. Getting a guy like Forsberg – in the prime of his career, at the top of his game – is exactly the marquee signing the league needs. Blank might have to remortgage his home to afford Forsberg’s salary (who are we kidding, he’d just need to skip a couple of dinners), but that pales in comparison to the added value for Atlanta United and MLS both on and off the pitch; intuition leads me to believe league higher-ups would be more than happy to toss around some weight in order to bring a player of Forsberg’s pedigree to America.

And there you have it: five players who could fill Miguel Almiron’s giddy boots. Some are better than others, some more realistic than others, but all would thrive in the roaring Atlanta attack. Perhaps a couple of these names are pipe dreams, but in light of last night’s results, I think we all could use a bit of unchecked optimism.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with this list? Think there are better options? Want to see United focus their energy elsewhere? Leave us a comment below or tweet us at @peachandpitch, and be sure to catch Ethan and me tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. on WUOG 90.5 for what one critic has called “a laughable soccer amateur hour.” (It’s actually only 30 minutes.)

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