If there's one question that has plagued Atlanta United longer than any other, it's who will lead the line if Josef Martinez is injured or misfiring?
Since the departure of Miguel Almiron to Newcastle United at the end of the 2018 season, the Five Stripes have struggled to find someone who can consistently supplement their star striker's goal tally.
Tito Villalba fell out of favor and left, Pity Martinez underdelivered on his promise and cost, Julian Gressel was sold, and Cubo Torres has simply been nowhere near the level required. Atlanta United were particularly stung in 2020 when Josef Martinez picked up an ACL injury in the first MLS game of the season, not returning until April the following year - the Five Stripes missed out on the Playoffs as a result.
Even in 2021, with the combined firepower of Ezequiel Barco, Luiz Araujo, and Marcelino Moreno, Martinez was the only Atlanta United player to reach double figures for MLS goals. Gabriel Heinze and, later, Gonzalo Pineda were often forced to field players out of position in unfamiliar false nine roles if Martinez was unavailable or needed rest.
According to reports, veteran forward Will Bruin could be the next to try his hand at backing up Martinez, with Atlanta United thought to be among a number of clubs chasing his signature.
On the surface, this may seem like an underwhelming target to supporters. But dig a little deeper, and Bruin might well offer a lot of value for relatively little cost.
The 32-year-old American is looking for a new club after recently leaving the Seattle Sounders, where he spent five seasons. Atlanta United boss Pineda was Bruin's coach for all but the final few months of that spell. This should not only give the Five Stripes the edge at the negotiating table, but also allow them to bring in a forward with an intimate understanding of Pineda's style of play and approach.
In 11 MLS seasons for the Sounders and Houston Dynamo combined, Bruin has recorded 74 goals and 33 assists in 285 regular-season appearances. His nine Playoff goals represent the seventh-highest tally in competition history and tie him alongside Jozy Altidore, Raul Ruidiaz, and Bradley Wright-Phillips as the highest-scoring active players in MLS Cup Playoff history.
During those 11 years, Bruin has been a part of five teams that made a run to the MLS Cup final, winning the big prize in 2019 with the Sounders. There are few players in MLS right now with that sort of experience.
Bruin's guaranteed salary of $458,333 in 2021 (per MLSPA figures) would place him far below the salaries earned by the likes of Jurgen Damm and Erik Lopez for Atlanta United last season.
Even when the goals do run a little dry, such as last season when he scored three and assisted three in 16 starts, Bruin offers other qualities. The two-time USMNT striker was second only to Xavier Arreaga (3.65) among Sounders players for aerial duels won per 90 minutes (3.22) and averaged 1.33 chances created per 90.
Atlanta United would still need more to become a championship-winning team once again. The Five Stripes will at least search for more creativity in midfield, and that's even before the potential sales of George Bello, Ezequiel Barco, and Miles Robinson.
But Bruin would at least tick one box off the list, at a low price, and with someone Pineda knows inside-out.