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(not the?) Same Ole Atlanta United 2023

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It's not quite a whole new show. There's no way it won't feel like it, though.

Atlanta United enters 2023 with a new team executive, and a player not named Josef being the face of the MLS franchise. Who is that face? Well, we'll see, won't we?

Did your MLS team have a player starting and winning the World Cup Final? No? Sucks to be you! Atlanta's lead midfielder, Thiago Almada was called out to Qatar five days before the quadrennial global tourney, and was instrumental in helping secure the trophy for Lionel Messi and Friends.

Almada helped carry the day often for a Five Stripes club stripped of many of its pillars due to injuries in 2022. Venerable goalkeeper Brad Guzan and Team USA defender Miles Robinson were shut down early in the season due to injuries, and future statue subject Josef Martinez couldn't return in full form until it was too late in the season for manager Gonzalo Pineda's club to catch up on the MLS table.

The diminished leadership submarined the direction of the club on the pitch and in the front office. Founding president and team architect Darren Eales returned to English Premier League to preside over Newcastle United. The new guy, President and CEO Garth Lagerwey, arrives from Seattle Sounders FC, and oversees a 2018 MLS champion that has lost its way.

In the half-decade since Atlanta players celebrated at Magic City with the MLS Cup, the rest of the Southern soccer seen has caught up. Charlotte debuted last year to packed crowds and had a strong run. Nashville is a consistent contender, and Orlando is finally making the playoffs. Stretch out a little further, and Cincinnati has gained traction with a former United prospect leading the charge. Austin finished second in the MLS West last year. And Inter Miami FC now has Josef Martinez, David Beckham's club acquiring Atlanta's legendary striker via trade.

The upshot is Atlanta exists in a pro soccer universe where, aside from the routine 40,000-plus crowds at Mercedes Benz Stadium, site of today's season debut versus the San Jose Earthquakes (7:30 PM Eastern, 92.9 FM in ATL, Streaming via AppleTV+), ATLUTD is no longer a special standout. The goal in 2023 is to rebuild the franchise such that Atlanta doesn't become a spectacle.

Guzan and Robinson are back from season-long injuries, but Mr. Clean Sheet is getting long in the tooth. While they'll need stellar saves from the soon-to-be 39-year-old, with former Toronto FC keeper Quentin Westberg brought in as a stopgap, he'll need a more cohesive unit backing him up along the defensive line. Peruvian center-back Luis Abram was brought in from Spain's La Liga to help firm up the defensive play alongside Robinson and Brooks Lennon.

There will not be another Josef, but Atlanta is hopeful that Giorgos Giacoumakis (JOR-goss JOCK-oo-MOC-kiss) will re-enliven the once heralded Atlanta offensive attack. Eventually, once the Greek striker arriving via transfer from Glasgow's Celtic club clears his visa.

Almada (top returning goal scorer and assist-maker, with 6 goals and 8 assists in 2022) remains the straw that stirs this drink. Pineda's schemes helped Atlanta dominate possession and created many chances for Almada, Mattheus Rosetto and Luiz Araujo to score goals last year, but a lack of chemistry made finishing with balls in the net a conundrum. The hope is that Almada's international stint has him returning with a renewed sense of what it takes to connect with his fellow scoring threats. He'll get a boost from 2020 MLS Cup goal scorer Derrick Etienne, who signed as a free agent from Columbus Crew.

The evolution will not be televised! Unless you get into streaming, that is. Games will no longer be aired locally on the hurtling-toward-bankrupt Bally Sports, but MLS set up an exclusive partnership with Apple to air all MLS contests via AppleTV+. At least a half-dozen games throughout the season will be nationally aired on either FOX or FS1, the first coming in a few weeks when the Five Stripes head up to face Charlotte FC.


Let's Go United!


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It was such an exciting ride from inception to that MLS championship.  I coached my sons in 20 soccer teams over ten years (learning as I went) and it became the bond between father and sons that continued into adulthood for both of them.
Atlanta United was our touchpoint in the teams early years, texting from across the country, an occasional visit during a big game, and even going to Atlanta from Chicago and DC to watch in person.  Plenty of jerseys and shirts filled our closets and were worn with pride far from Atlanta - always good for a high-five from a passerby fan as remote as we were geographically.  

Attending Chicago Fire games when the Atlanta team was the opponent and cheering them on was also a treat.

Then...almost overnight the team was dismantled and we could barely keep up with who was on the pitch during any given year.  It all lost its appeal and we haven't been watching for the last couple years. 

It would be wonderful to recapture some of that magic with a consistent set of players, playing well, and competing again.

Fingers crossed this is the year my sons and I become fanatics for Atlanta United again!

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Free Kick TV! The first of a few Atlanta United games will be on good, old-fashioned VHF TV, live in Technicolor!

Catch The Five Stripes on the Boob Tube in their first road game, up in Uptown versus upcoming rival Charlotte FC (12 noon, FOX and 92.9 FM in ATL). Matheus Rosetto is out with a bum hammy, but coach Gonzalo Pineda will have midfielder Santiago Sosa (suspended last season for 3 games incl. the first 2, for being a jackwagon) available to fill in as a sub, if not start.

Many Charlotte sports fans are awaking to more significant news involving David Tepper's co-tenants at Bank of America Stadium. The Crowns (0-2-0 W-D-L), meanwhile, have struggled to gain traction, getting shut out 1-0 in their home opener versus New England, then helping expansion team St. Louis CITY SC notch a first MLS win, falling 2-1 to the Arch Enemies before their home crowd.

They're as excited about incoming striker Enzo Copetti as we are about the Human Spell-Check, Giorgos Giacoumakis, the latter showing promise and nearly a goal in last week's home draw with Toronto FC. The aim for unbeaten Atlanta (1-1-0 W-D-L), winners of just 2 away games all last season, is to kick off the road schedule by catching Charlotte slipping.

Let's Go United!


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