Atlanta United off to an undefeated start

Senior midfielder Thiago Almada kicks the ball in Atlanta United’s winning season opener against the San Jose Earthquakes. Almada was called up to the Argentina national soccer team in 2022, which went on to win the 2022 World Cup. // Photo courtesy of Brett Davis via USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United have achieved an undefeated start to the season with a 2-1 win against the San Jose Earthquakes and a 1-1 draw against Toronto Football Club. Midfielder Thiago Almada has started the season off brilliantly being involved with all three of United’s goals with two goals and one assist. Overall, Atlanta’s playoff hopes are looking good following a strong start to the season.

After a disappointing season last year, Atlanta United are hoping to bounce back and make it into the Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup Playoffs. The club has many reasons to believe that they will improve, mostly due to the new talent that has joined Atlanta. Midfielder Derrick Etienne Jr,. who had a brilliant season last year for the Columbus Crew, joined on a free agent contract, but his impact will play a lesser role at the start of the season due to a preseason injury. 

Defender Luis Abram came in from Granada in hopes of further solidifying the backline. Forward Miguel Berry has come in from D.C. United, whose style of play looks to get the other United players involved. Finally the biggest signing of the bunch, forward Giorgos Giakoumakis, top scorer in the Scottish Premiership last season, was brought in hopes of bringing his goals to Atlanta. 

Outside of the new players that came in over the offseason, two massive players both in stature and leadership have returned to the line up, goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender Miles Robinson. Both Guzan and Robinson are coming off of Achilles injuries that forced them to miss the majority of last season and dashing any World Cup hopes.

Robinson and Guzan weren’t the only United players to have an eventful offseason, due to Almada making the trip to Qatar. After an impressive debut season in the MLS, Argentine manager Lionel Scaloni decided to call up Almada to the Argentina National Team. In Qatar, Almada only made one substitute appearance — but more importantly, he was part of the team that went on to win the World Cup. After an eventful offseason, the only thing left to do was to face the Earthquakes to kick off the MLS season. The game started off well for Atlanta United with the Five Stripes holding the majority of the ball and progressing the ball down the field, but they were unable to find the final ball to make clear cut chances. 

In the 13th minute, San Jose scored due to a low drilled ball into the box by Earthquake midfielder Cristian Espinoza and finished off by forward Jeremy Ebobisse. After the goal, San Jose had more of the ball and started controlling the game as well as wasting time. In the 39th minute, Atlanta was awarded a penalty due to a handball, but forward Luis Araújo would miss the golden opportunity. 

After the penalty miss, Atlanta United controlled the ball and the tempo of the game but was unable to make any great chances, with most of the shots being taken from outside of the box. In the 93rd minute, Atlanta was awarded a corner kick, which was played to Almada on the edge of the box and slotted into the goal to make the score 1-1. A few minutes later, with the game drawing to an end, United was fouled on the edge of the box. With Almada standing over the ball to take the free kick, the stadium atmosphere tense, he put the ball into the top right of the San Jose net completing the Atlanta United comeback to win 2-1 in front of a crowd of 67,528. 

Hoping to continue the momentum from the win against San Jose, Atlanta United’s head coach Gonzalo Pineda largely kept the same line up, with the only change in the starting 11 being Berry coming in for forward Jackson Conway. Once again, Atlanta dominated the majority of the ball with Toronto FC playing on the counter attack. Similarly to the game against San Jose, Atlanta were unable to find the final ball and were frustrated throughout the game both due to a lack of chances and Toronto’s time-wasting antics. In the 52nd minute, Toronto forward Federico Bernardeschi had a well-struck shot that got past Guzan for Toronto to take the lead 1–0. Atlanta United were able to respond almost instantly thanks to a deflected shot from midfielder Matheus Rossetto to make the score 1-1. Atlanta were frustrated for the rest of the game with the match ending as a 1-1 draw.

After a relatively strong start to the season, Atlanta United are sitting in fourth place in the East and will look to continue their strong start to the season against the Charlotte FC team in Charlotte, N.C. on March 11. The next home game will be on March 18 against the Portland Timbers at 7:30 p.m. at
Mercedes-Benz Stadium.