ATL United rolls through Portland, Charlotte

Atlanta United’s forward center Giorgos Giakoumakis celebrates after scoring at Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the second half of the match against the Portland Timbers. The Five Stripes won 5-1. // ​​ Photo courtesy of Hyosub Shin AJC

Going into the third match of the season, Atlanta United continued their winning ways against their rivals just up I-85, Charlotte FC with a resounding 3-0 led by academy player Caleb Wiley who was involved in all three goals. Atlanta United also dismantled the Portland Timbers 5-1, led by midfielder Thiago Almada who secured two goals and two assists. In the most recent performance against Columbus Crew, Atlanta fell 6-1 in part due to the absences of key players Almada and defender Miles Robinson due to them being called up to the Argentina and United States national teams, respectively.

The third game of the season had an emotional beginning, with both teams honoring Anton Walkes, a Charlotte FC player who passed away in January in a boating accident. Walkes also played with Atlanta United in the 2017 and 2020 seasons. 

The Atlanta United team that took on Charlotte was largely the same as the one that faced Toronto FC, with the only change being midfielder Amar Sejdić coming in for Matheus Rossetto, who suffered a hamstring injury. Atlanta started off the game well, with Wiley putting the Five Stripes up within five minutes thanks to an excellent ball from Almada. Just seven minutes later, forward Luiz Araújo doubled United’s lead after an excellent touch from Wiley. 

The game was then effectively finished once Wiley put in Atlanta’s third goal of the game right before halftime. The game finished 3-0, letting Atlanta secure their place as “Kings of the South.”

After defeating Charlotte FC, Atlanta had to face up against the Portland Timbers. United manager Gonzalo Pineda only made one change, and it was to start the much anticipated forward Giorgios Giakoumakis over Miguel Berry, who dropped to the bench. An early Portland goal was ruled out for offside, but Wiley continued where he left off against Charlotte to put Atlanta in front by the 25th minute, once again being assisted by Almada. Almada then scored a peach of a freekick from around 30 yards out to double the lead at the 50th minute. Giakoumakis secured his first goal just nine minutes later with Wiley providing the cross. Soon after Portland got a consolation goal, Araújo made it five for the Five Stripes. Almada finished off the game with a neat finish from midfielder Derrick Ettienne Jr. The two-goal and assist performance from Almada is only the second such performance from an Atlanta player, with the first being back in 2017.

After two dominant victories against Portland and Charlotte, Atlanta then took on the Columbus Crew. United looked very different from the team that played last. Seven players were away with their national teams, including key contributors Almada, Robinson, Giakoumakis, Etienne Jr. and defender Luis Abram. From the start, Atlanta faced an uphill battle, and the game did not go well. Atlanta could not create many chances with Almada away, and Atlanta never got a foothold in the game, losing 6-1.

Looking to bounce back from the disappointing result against Columbus, Atlanta will face the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, April 1 at 7:30 p.m. in Mercedes -Benz Stadium, with all players returning from international duty.