United caps regular season, readies for playoffs

Atlanta United completed their regular season on a 2-2 draw versus FC Cincinnati. The team will now face the Columbus Crew in the first round of the MLS Playoffs in hopes of advancing. // Photo courtesy of Atlanta United

Atlanta United finished off the regular season this past weekend by playing out a 2-2 draw against FC Cincinnati, who won the supporters shield this year, an annual award given to the MLS team with the best regular season record. After a disappointing 2022 season, Atlanta United bounced back and returned to the playoffs. The players all played a significant role in returning the club back to where they wanted to be, but the standouts are Greek striker Giorgos Giakoumakis and Argentinian midfielder Thiago Almada.

Atlanta United went up to Cincinnati with little left to play for, with both teams preparing for the playoffs. Head Coach Gonzalo Pineda decided to send out a close to full strength starting lineup, with the only change being defender Ronald Hernández coming in for defender Brooks Lennon. The game was an encapsulation of Atlanta United this season. Giakoumakis scored two goals with assists coming from Almada and attacker Saba Lobjanidze, but the team was unable to secure the win with Cincinnati responding with two goals of their own. The game ended 2-2, but the scoreline was not the most important event of that night. Almada picked up a red card due to two challenges, meaning that he will miss the first playoff game against the Columbus Crew in Ohio.

Despite finishing the regular season on a down, Almada has been Atlanta United’s best player in the regular season. From the very first game, Almada, who scored two goals in injury time, has propelled the team to being one of the most productive attacking offenses in the MLS, with Atlanta United finishing with 66 goals, the second most in the MLS, just one goal behind the league lead. Almada ended the season with 30 goal contributions, 19 assists and 11 goals, which is the second most in the MLS just one goal contribution behind the league lead and his assist tally tying for the fourth most in an MLS season. With his 31 career assists in just two seasons, Almada has the second most assists for United just behind Julian Gressel with 35. Almada’s season has made him one of the favorites for the Landon Donavon MLS season MVP. 

Alongside Almada, Giakoumakis has had a season to remember for Atlanta United. After acquiring a visa after his move from Celtic, Giakoumakis came into the team and has made an instant impact. Giakoumakis scored 17 goals in the season, tying him for the second most in the MLS despite playing 700 fewer minutes than the player with the most goals. Giakoumakis’ goals per 90 minutes are also second best at 0.85, just .02 behind the league leader. Due to his consistent goals, Giakoumakis has been nominated for both MLS MVP and newcomer of the year. Giakoumakis is the current favorite for both awards.

Outside of Almada and Giakoumakis, Atlanta has had strong performers throughout the team. Captain and goalkeeper Brad Guzan has had a strong season despite tearing his achilles just last season. He has been one of the best shot stoppers in the whole league. Defender Miles Robinson has also returned to being a mainstay of both Atlanta United and the United States Men’s National Team since tearing his Achilles. Defender Caleb Wiley has emerged as one of the very best young players in the world, making the left side of the Atlanta United side his home. Midfielder Tristan Muyumba has been dynamic in the Atlanta United side since joining in the middle of the season and has been one of the reasons that Atlanta is able to transition from defense to attack so well. Finally, wingers Xande Silva and Lobjanidze have become some of the very best attackers in the MLS and are threatening with every ingame action they have.

Overall, Atlanta United has had a very successful regular season with many players contributing at very high levels. Manager Pineda will now turn towards a championship as he looks for the team to take another step in the playoffs as they take on some of the other best teams in the league.