Atlanta United

Atlanta United seal Luiz Araujo signing but Thiago Almada deal must wait

Chris Smith
Atlanta United appear to have finally ended their attacking search with Luiz Araujo.
Atlanta United appear to have finally ended their attacking search with Luiz Araujo. / Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

Atlanta United have boosted their attacking options with the signing of Brazilian forward Luiz Araujo from Lille.

The Five Stripes are in the midst of a terrible run of form, winless in 12 and sinking to 11th in the Eastern Conference as a result, while they're currently under the charge of interim boss Rob Valentino after the club parted ways with Gabriel Heinze.

Penalties aside, Marcelino Moreno and Josef Martinez - the latter still working his way back to fitness from an ACL injury that kept him out for the whole of 2020 - are Atlanta's joint-top scorers with just three goals each. Only Inter Miami (13), Austin FC (13) and FC Cincinnati (17) have managed fewer than their 18 strikes throughout the whole of MLS in 2021.

Though president Darren Eales posted one of the cryptic tweets that always precedes a new signing and the club's official Twitter account posted a short video of a blank kit with the caption "incoming" on Thursday night, it took until Friday morning for the deal to be officially announced.

“Luiz is a player with great drive, a winning mentality, and is coming to us from a top club in Europe that just won their league,” vice president and technical director Carlos Bocanegra said. “He has experience in big games, as well as UEFA Champions League and Europa League. We’re looking forward to him making an impact with the club.”

Araujo, 25, notched four goals and two assists in 28 Ligue 1 appearances last season as Lille defied the odds to wrestle the title from Paris Saint-Germain. Though he has silverware in the cabinet, Araujo may well have a point to prove in MLS with the Brazilian struggling for consistent minutes during his time in France.

A direct and skilful wide man, the former Sao Paulo winger should inject the Five Stripes with some much-needed creativity and unpredictability, with Araujo always willing to cut inside onto his left foot to get shots on goal.

To facilitate the move, Atlanta have bought down Alan Franco's contract to free up a third Designated Player spot, which Araujo will now fill alongside Martinez and Ezequiel Barco.'s Tom Bogert reported Araujo's fee at just short of $12m.

The move for the Brazilian represents the end of a frustrating chase for attacking options from Atlanta United, who have been linked with Napoli's Adam Ounas, Ferreira of Gremio, Cagliari forward Joao Pedro and Braga midfielder Ricardo Horta throughout the recent transfer window.

Araujo isn't the only attacking option Atlanta have been chasing recently, with Velez Sarsfield midfielder Thiago Almada coming into the club's crosshairs.

It's thought that Almada appeared at the top of ex-boss Heinze's wishlist, with the two working together at Velez as recently as last year. But the midfielder's move to Georgia looked in doubt following Heinze's dismissal.

In the end, Visa issues meant the deal could not be completed in time for the closing of the MLS secondary transfer window on Thursday, but Velez chairman Sergio Rapisarda has since confirmed an agreement remains in place and that Almada should join Atlanta in January.

“We waited [for the Visa] day after day when [they told us] they would give him his turn to leave the country at the end of September," Rapisarda said (via Ronald Peña). "When this happened 48 hours ago, we said okay, let’s still do it and see if he can leave in September.

“I communicated with [Atlanta United], we talked - not daily but often. Now we are in a instrumentation process. The operation did not fall through. Thiago will stay with us until the end of January. [The process] is to secure the player with his new club.

“[Thiago Almada] will be signing an agreement in the following days like we (Vélez) are with the club (Atlanta United) so that the operation continues through this semester and so we can also enjoy him.

“On one side, I had better expectations of the people over there, but in the end, it’s the United States government that gives the OK and the embassy over here that issues the work Visa.”

Almada is a silky attacking midfielder, able to glide past opposing defenders with his dribbling and split open a backline with precision passing. To date, he has 20 goals and seven assists in 80 club appearances, while he was part of Argentina's squad for this summer's Tokyo Olympics.

It's thought Almada would cost Atlanta United $15m, which would take him beyond Pity Martinez as the club's record transfer.