Same Ole Atlanta United 2022


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Kings of the South? Uneasy lies the head that wants to wear the crown once more.

Pro Soccer will never work in the South, They said. Too humid, too long of an overlapping season, not enough corporate sponsors, too many fuddy duddy would-be fans stuck in their ways, unwilling to consume an additional professional sport and its new, largely non-local players. MLS tried and failed in Miami and Tampa, back in 2001. Why, They said, would the former home of the NHL Thrashers and Flames fare any different?

That was the environment that Atlanta United FC sought to defy when they joined Orlando SC and, if you will, DC United as the exhaustive Southeastern contingent of Major League Soccer rivals in 2017. The results, due to a superb regional ground game to build buy-in from the get-go, were an unqualified success. Sorry, it appears I have misspelled $ucce$$.

The ultimate aim, at the managerial level, was to plant Atlanta’s flag as Arthur Blank’s bullies on the futbol block. Global domination would be swell, eventually. But for the first half-decade of ATLUTD’s existence, regional mastery within MLS would do just fine.

Well, as the debate would go up in Baltimore, either The Game done changed, or The Game is the same, but just got more fierce.

Look up five years from Atlanta United’s sterling debut, and Florida now has a second MLS club, this one down in Miami with backing from Beckham. The family who made bank off Dollar General wanted in, and now Nashville is duplicating the on-pitch breakout Atlanta once enjoyed. Having scratched out their first seasons at the Tennessee Titans’ home, Nashville SC will unveil their new, 30,000-seat stadium in May.

Even Northern Kentuckians won’t have far to travel to root on FC Cincinnati. Over in Texas, Austin tried to pry another club out of Ohio, failed, and was awarded with an expansion side anyway, extending the Longhorn State’s MLS haul to three clubs.

This season, Charlotte FC has joined the fray, the Crowns hoping to pack 40,000 of primarily their own new fans into the Carolina Panthers’ Uptown venue. Charlotte could maybe expand in a pinch, rivaling Atlanta’s 71,000 max seating. Alas, like the Panthers, they cannot close the roof on a rainy day. Tsk tsk.

Third in the MLS East in 2021 and three table points ahead of Atlanta and Orlando, Nashville SC departs to the MLS Western Conference this year, for the sake of competitive balance. But they’ll be back once St. Louis and Sacramento hop online to widen the MLS to 30 teams. Tack on each franchise’s affiliates at the second-tier (MLS Next Pro / USL Championship), and that’s nearly a dozen new pro soccer joints in this little corner of North America.

The upshot is that Atlanta United, as a victim of its own $ucce$$, will not have the ability to draw support exclusively from a region extending 400 miles in any direction from palatial Mercedes Benz Stadium. They understand that, barring Yankee-style allegiances, they no longer corner a market they can grow organically all to themselves. They won’t have the decades-long head start that the Bravos and the Hawks had to become, if not “America’s Team,” then at least the only game of its kind in a little big town.

Still, Atlanta knows they can run the Dirty South, hot, flat, and crowded as it is. They’ve got a prime-time headliner and local cult figure in striker Josef Martinez, perhaps fully healthy to kickstart this season for the first time in a couple years. They have an All-Star defensive counterpart to Josef in Miles Robinson, and a goalkeeper who gets incrementally more reliable than he gets old in 37-year-old Brad Guzan.

The Five Stripes have a revolving door of homegrown products, highlighted by the Bundesliga-departed George Bello, a crop of young assets that is about as impressive as the revolving door of international Designated Players.

Out goes attacking winger Ezequiel Barco, on loan to Argentina’s top-flight side River Plate, and in, eventually, comes Thiago Almada. The latter’s $16 million transfer fee is the largest in league history, and that news should sound familiar around these parts. Barco’s record $15 million fee from 2018 was eclipsed by the $15.5 million fee for departed midfielder Pity Martinez one year later.

Last summer’s pickup of Brazilian winger Luiz Araujo from French champion Lille was also top-five for transfer fees at the time of his acquisition, according to MLSsoccer.com. So was Miggy Almiron’s fee back in 2016. In the MLS East, only Toronto FC, and 2021’s playoff ouster of Atlanta and surprise defending champions, NYCFC, have a modern track record that approaches Atlanta’s assertiveness. Sorry… a$$ertivene$$.

Arthur Blank has sustained his willingness to commit and compete with deep pockets, cycling through managers like Gonzalo Pineda until the proper title-contending fit is achieved on the pitch. Will any of the Johnny-come-latelys around the MLS South follow suit with high-quality homegrown development, fan engagement and international scouting? Or will they be content just tapping into the regional well of financial fortune that Atlanta has broken open for them?

On the pitch, the highest-valued MLS club outside of Los Angeles will be out to reclaim the undisputed Kings of the South title, which ought to be more than enough to contend in an Eastern-heavy schedule. But reigning in the South, in 2022, is no longer The Five Stripes’ north star. In MLS, the title of “North America’s Team,” along with the MLS Cup, is back up for grabs.

 

Let’s Go United!

~lw3

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The new league schedule will be beneficial for teams' bottom lines in terms of travel costs. Eight of the 34 games on ATLUTD's docket will be versus Western Conference sides, and one of them is in Nashville. Two of the eight MLS West foes kickstart Atlanta's season, beginning today with perennial contender Sporting Kansas City here at the Benz (3 PM Eastern, FS1, 92.9 FM in ATL) and continuing next Saturday in Colorado against the Rapids, 2021's conference leader. Aside from possible US Open Cup action, the Five Stripes will not have to travel to the Mountain or Pacific time zones again until July 24, when they visit the LA Galaxy.

https://www.atlutd.com/schedule/matches

ESPN offers up a team-by-team bird's-eye view of what each MLS team can look forward to in 2022, including Atlanta:

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What they've been up to: The Five Stripes have basically been trying to remake the team in the image of Gonzalo Pineda, who will begin his first full season as Atlanta manager after taking over midway through the previous campaign. And they've been doing it in a way that again sets the bar for the rest of the league.

Caesars Sportsbook odds to win MLS Cup: +2,000
FiveThirtyEight chance to win MLS Cup: 5% [4th in the MLS East, behind New England and the New York clubs, tied with Columbus, 6th overall behind LAFC and Seattle ~lw3]

Biggest offseason move: Atlanta has made a few moves but none were bigger than the acquisition of attacking midfielder Thiago Almada from Argentine side Velez Sarsfield for a league-record fee of $16 million. Almost as important is who is going out the door, with Ezequiel Barco -- who never lived up to his own $15M price tag -- headed to River Plate.

2022 will be a success if ...: Atlanta returns to the league's elite.

Let's face it, the Five Stripes have struggled ever since Tata Martino left to take over the Mexico national team. The Frank de Boer era was wracked with dysfunction. The brief tenure of Gabriel Heinze was orders of magnitude worse.

Pineda is expected to fix all of that. The good news is Atlanta is still willing to spend for top talent, but the Barco and Pity Martinez experiences show that spending isn't a guarantee of anything. Free-agent signing Ozzie Alonso could be an under-the-radar acquisition that provides some glue to Pineda's side. Andrew Gutman will need to step in at left-back for departed George Bello.

More than anything, though, Pineda will need to make sure that: (1) Almada jells with the team's other attacking stars in Luiz Araujo and Josef Martinez, and (2) then ensuring that the balance in midfield is right to cover for the attacking quartet. If he can, the remaining pieces are in place with Brad Guzan in goal and Miles Robinson anchoring the back line. -- Jeff Carlisle

 

https://www.espn.com/soccer/major-league-soccer/story/4594279/2022-mls-team-previews-what-has-your-club-been-up-to-what-would-be-a-successful-season

 

AJC's Doug Roberson reports on the players inactive for today's season opener, including potentially 2021's second-leading goal scorer.

https://www.ajc.com/sports/atlanta-united/atlanta-united-missing-several-players-for-season-opener-vs-sporting-kc/D66T7NST3JC5BN5STEJUHENJMA/

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The team lists midfielders Jake Mulraney (leg), Franco Ibarra (visa) and Machop Chol (leg) as out, along with Alan Franco (suspension) and Emerson Hyndman (recovery).

New Designated Player Thiago Almada hasn’t practiced this week because he is in Argentina securing his visa, and he likely will be unavailable, too.

Listed as questionable are midfielders Marcelino Moreno (foot) and Santiago Sosa (visa), who hasn’t practiced with the team this preseason because he is recovering from offseason groin surgery. Sosa is in Argentina working on obtaining a Green Card. Moreno missed the past few weeks of training because of injury and has yet to rejoin the team. He is training individually.

 

Here is Roberson's comprehensive AJC coverage of articles previewing ATLUTD and predicting outcomes in each MLS conference:

https://www.ajc.com/sports/atlanta-united/previewing-atlanta-uniteds-2022-mls-season/53EZ33XBIBHFFD2N45AK2JTUDU/

~lw3

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Ignore the 80-degrees outside in the ATL. Winter is Here!

30-degree temps and a dusting of snow may be the scene for Atlanta United at d*ck’s Sporting Goods Park outside of Denver today. For Josef Martinez, today’s match with the Colorado Rapids (6 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Altitude TV in DEN) may feel reminiscent of the team’s 6-1 winning breakthrough in the Minnesota snow five years ago.

Martinez had his first MLS hat trick in the white stuff back in 2017, versus ATLUTD’s fellow expansion side. More recently, King Josef's nifty passing exploits were on display with two assists to kickstart Atlanta’s opening 3-1 win over Sporting KC last weekend. It should be a bit harder for Martinez and Atlanta to put the big chill on Colorado.

The Rapids sleighed their way through deeper snow in CONCACAF Champions League action just last week. They got the goal they needed to tie up the home-and-home series, but they couldn’t close the deal on a second goal due to an offsides call, then fell in penalty kicks to Guatemalan side Comunicaciones, to the disappointment of the home crowd.

Colorado kicked off MLS play in more pleasant climes, but Carlos Vela (all 3 goals) and MLS Cup favorite LAFC weren’t all that accommodating. They’ll hope to put the deep freeze on Martinez and the Atlanta offense today. The Rapids come off a dream season having catapulted to the crest of the Western Conference in 2021 (17-10-7 W-D-L), but they found themselves shut out at home 1-0 to eventual conference champ Portland. It’s safe to say, they need a big home win as much as anybody.

Rapids manager Robin Fraser, the Jamaican-American former player who spent much of his career in the Centennial State, still fields a club captained by English midfielder Jack Price (12 assists in 2021, 5th in MLS) and powered by forwards Michael Barrios, Jonathan Lewis and Dominique Badji. But they have lost some punch, having traded midfielder Kellyn Acosta to LAFC and loaned Cole Bassett overseas. Without designated player talent to replace them, Fraser is still working through the proper lineups to keep Colorado competitive versus top-flight MLS competition.

Colorado has capable defenders, particularly on set pieces, but goalkeeper William Yarbrough (tied for league-high with 13 clean sheets in 2021) has been overworked of late, between the late-night loss to Comunicaciones and the meltdown in L.A. (4 saves despite the three goals allowed to Vela).

Atlanta is going to want to attack from an array of angles in the run of play to keep Yarbrough and the Rapids defense on their toes, a tougher task for manager Gonzalo Pineda to draw up with icebreaker forward Luiz Araujo (hamstring) sidelined for four weeks. Creativity from Tyler Wolff, Brooks Lennon. Mattheus Rossetto and one of last week’s heroes, veteran Dom Dwyer, on the wings will be crucial for Atlanta keeping pressure inside the final 18.

Alan Franco returns from his league suspension to solidify the Five Stripes defense, flanking Miles Robinson at center back. If they get some help from the midfielders in keeping Colorado cool, Atlanta won’t need a six-goal blitz from Josef and company to keep the Rapids on ice.

 

Let’s Go United!

~lw3

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Sacre bleu, it's almost time for kickoff!

A little luck of the Irish came last week when Jake Mulraney saved Atlanta's bacon and denied Charlotte FC their first table points. Now they've got another winless MLS opponent at The Benz, in CF Montreal (4 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast), a Canadian side (0-3-0 in MLS play, outscored 10-2 so far) that wore itself out trying in vain to reach the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.

Five Stripes fans will hope for an earlier jump on the visitors in the scoreboard, and no blown leads, and no late-game and extra-time high-wire acts. Look for new Designated Player forward Thiago Almada to factor in late in the contest.

 

Let's Go United!

~lw3

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21 minutes ago, lethalweapon3 said:

Sacre bleu, it's almost time for kickoff!

A little luck of the Irish came last week when Jake Mulraney saved Atlanta's bacon and denied Charlotte FC their first table points. Now they've got another winless MLS opponent at The Benz, in CF Montreal (4 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast), a Canadian side (0-3-0 in MLS play, outscored 10-2 so far) that wore itself out trying in vain to reach the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.

Five Stripes fans will hope for an earlier jump on the visitors in the scoreboard, and no blown leads, and no late-game and extra-time high-wire acts. Look for new Designated Player forward Thiago Almada to factor in late in the contest.

 

Let's Go United!

~lw3

Id be all of this game if it took place in mid 80’s if I wasn’t watching escape to victory or a minor miracle. :smile: Pele was my dad’s dude and growing up I watched as much footage as possible. #longlivefutbol ⚽️ 

Go United! #ATLluv #lw3workinallangles

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Cherry Blossoms are so lovely this time of year!

But no more White-Knuckle Draws, please! Jake Mulraney and Thiago Almada have saved Atlanta United's bacon of late, but with the schedule turning more on the road, including today's affair at Julian Gressel's DC United (7:30 PM Eastern, Bally Sports South. Busy Sports Night, eh?) we're going to need some mid-game, midifielder heroes to keep Five Stripes fans in a flowery disposition!

 

Let's Go United!

~lw3

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Josef's out for another 6-8 weeks, so tighten up those seat belts for another bumpy ride!

Here are the XI for today's match in Uptown Charlotte (1:30 PM Eastern, ABC, 94.1 FM in ATL).

 

~lw3

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Hoping the nets in Cleveland won't be the only ones on Fire this weekend against some Ohio Players! Atlanta United (3-2-1 W-L-D) is without midfielder Ozzie Alonso (ACL surgery, out for season) to go along with Josef for the time being, and will need to be more creative to stay ahead of even defensively porous clubs like FC Cincinnati (Saturday, 6 PM Eastern, Peachtree TV and 92.9 FM in ATL). Atlanta is eager to extend their streak at the Benz to eleven without a loss (7-0-3  at home), and a couple golazos ought to be enough to turn the trick. Watch out, though, for former ATLUTD developmental player Brandon Vasquez, who already has five of eight team goals on the season for Cincy (2-4-0).

Also, an RIP salute to local hip-hop legend Archie Eversole, whose "We Ready" hit from back in the day became a certified-platinum Five Stripes fan anthem.

~lw3

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We are coming apart at the seams!

And yet, there is still the matter of defending the US Open Cup! The defense of the trophy last won by the Five Stripes in 2019 (tourneys were canceled the past two years; you can imagine why) begins today versus Chattanooga FC, at Kennessaw State's Fifth Third Bank Stadium (7:30 PM Eastern, 92.9 FM in ATL).

MLS vet Bobby Shuttleworth takes Guz's place between the pipes, with Homegrown Player Justin Garces permitted to be elevated to the top tier from ATLUTD 2. If there is an ideal time for a major transition like this, this is pretty much it. 

Let's Go United!

~lw3

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It's a Beat MIA Day! Before the Bravos try to keep Soler flares from reaching the Battery, and before the Hawks seek to force a Game 6 back here at The Farm in a few days, Atlanta United is down in SoFla eager to bend it like Beckham, or at least like he used to do it in his heady playing days.

Inter Miami CF hosts the Five Stripes in Beckham's yard (1 PM Eastern, 92.9 FM in ATL, ESPN) and Trae would do good to send the visitors bushels of BodyArmor ahead of this cramp-inducing start time.

Despite the 6-0 bonanza against USOC opening-round foe Chattanooga last week, Atlanta (3-2-2 W-D-L) has gone scoreless in its past two MLS fixtures, and have one goal to its credit this month since losing Josef Martinez. Finding ways to set up scores off set pieces and controlling possession for long stretches will alleviate new starting keeper Bobby Shuttleworth and help stymie a thin Miami roster (last in MLS East with 2-1-4 W-D-L) that's smelling itself a bit, despite making do without their own star striker Gonzalo Higuain, after recent wins over New England and Seattle.

 

Let's Go United!

~lw3

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giphy.gif

 

Can Luiz Araujo transform Montreal into his own personal LA-LA-Land? We'll see if he can get Atlanta United's offense out of the rut in a few minutes (4 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL).

 

Let's Go United!

~lw3

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2 hours ago, lethalweapon3 said:

giphy.gif

 

Can Luiz Araujo transform Montreal into his own personal LA-LA-Land? We'll see if he can get Atlanta United's offense out of the rut in a few minutes (4 PM Eastern, Bally Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL).

 

Let's Go United!

~lw3

I love Mr. Rush from Too close for comfort. I watched it as a kid and died laughing when they had an encounter. Some of the funniest comedy.

But Caddy is a classic no doubt.

GO UNITED!!!!! #riseATL 

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Atlanta United is now just on the outside looking in among Playoff contenders on the Eastern Conference table, having not won a game in over a month. But the Five Stripes join Philadelphia as the only MLS East clubs still undefeated at home. Coming into the Benz this evening (6 PM Eastern, Bally Sports South and 92.9 FM in ATL) is a Chicago Fire club that has scored an MLS-low six goals in their nine league contests, including a whopping single goal score in their past five and none in the run-of-play over their past six, were embarrassed by a USL side in the US Open Cup, and hasn't won a game since mid-March.

But the Fire has got a goalkeeper who is standing on his head in most games (MLS-high 5 clean sheets; half of his 6 goals allowed in one 3-0 loss at Minnesota), who is being courted by both Team USA and Poland ahead of the World Cup, and one who, at just 17 years old, is less than half the injured Brad Guzan's age. Can the Stripes, who traded sparkplug Jake Mulraney this week to Orlando City for allocation cash, find the answers for setting up quality shots and solve the riddle of young Gabriel Slonina?

 

Let's Go United!

~lw3

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So, have I mentioned yet that we are coming apart at the seams???

While that news sucks for both the All-Star, All-world defender personally and USMNT, there's no time to fret for Atlanta United, who are in the second round of US Open Cup action this evening against Nashville SC (8 PM Eastern, 92.9 FM in ATL, streaming on ESPN+). It's the first of a double-dip for the Five Stripes at Nashville's new GEODIS Park, as they'll return here in ten days for the first MLS match in this building against the Dollar Generals.

The losses of Robinson and Brad Guzan for the foreseeable future means that scoring tallies, like the one led by the hat tricking Ronaldo Cisneros this past weekend in the 4-1 win over Chicago Fire FC, will have to be closer to the norm. Another dry spell on the pitch could spell the end of Atlanta's USOC defense, but there is a lot of MLS action remaining, and coach Gonzalo Pineda has his work cut out for him at both ends.

 

~lw3

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