Atlanta United hopes Luiz Araújo can spark MLS playoff drive

ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta United is hoping Luiz Araújo can provide the offensive boost it needs to rally for a playoff berth over the second half of the MLS season.

The team formally introduced its newest designated player on Tuesday, having acquired the 25-year-old Brazilian forward on a transfer from French club Lille.

Araújo joined United after helping Lille win the Ligue 1 championship for the fourth time in club history last season, as well as its first-ever French Champions Trophy on Aug. 1.

He’s ready for a new challenge in Major League Soccer.

“I’m very happy to be in MLS and show MLS who Luiz Araújo is,” he said through an translator.

Atlanta United is 10th in the Eastern Conference — three spots out of a playoff berth — and looking to build some momentum after its first victory in nearly three months, a 3-2 decision over Columbus last Saturday.

United went 12 matches without a win (0-5-7), setting up the prospect of another hugely disappointing season for what had been one of the league’s model franchises.

Technical director Carlos Bocanegra said there’s plenty of time to turn things around with 16 games remaining.

“We really want to make a push,” he said. “We think there’s still a lot to play for this season.”

Araújo could provide additional scoring punch for a club that has managed just 21 goals in 18 games.

The three-goal outburst against Columbus matched United’s highest-scoring game of the season.

Araújo is a speedy winger who joins a front line led by Josef Martinez, the 2018 MVP who is still trying to regain his top form after missing almost all of last season with a knee injury.

“We think he’s going to give us a little bit of balance,” Bocanegra said of Araújo. “He’s another piece to help unlock the defense and help stretch the defense.”

Araújo spent four seasons with Lille, where he scored 14 goals in 108 appearances. He went through preseason training with the French club and played 85 minutes in its 1-0 victory over PSG to claim the Champions Trophy.

Araújo will go through his first training session with Atlanta United on Wednesday, though it’s not known if he’ll be available for Sunday’s game against Los Angeles FC because of visa issues.

When he does get on the field, Araújo made it clear what his goal is — to bring another MLS Cup title to Atlanta.

The team won the championship in 2018, its second season in the league, and reached the conference final the next year.

“I really like to win titles,” Araújo said. “The main reason I’m here is I would like to win the league. It’s something I’ve been doing my whole life. I’ve been a champion.”

But he joins a club that has struggled mightily the last two seasons, missing the playoffs for the first time in 2020 and putting itself in another big hole this year.

Turmoil off the field certainly hasn’t helped.

United is on its fourth coach in less than 13 months, having fired Gabriel Heinze last month after just 13 games at the helm amid a falling-out with Martinez and allegations that he abused players during training.

Rob Valentino is leading the team on an interim basis, but Atlanta is searching for a permanent coach and could make another change shortly.

“We’ve talked to a few candidates,” Bocanegra told reporters on a Zoom call. “We hope to have some news for you guys shortly.”

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry

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