When I first started watching Major League Soccer, my initial reason was to cover the Trinidad and Tobago players that were playing in the different teams, such as last year’s MLS champion Joevin Jones in Seattle, Cordell Cato with the Earthquakes, Kevin Molino in his new team in Minnesota, and Kenwyne Jones in the expansion team, Atlanta United.
Jones and the Sounders have had an up and down season with some spectacular come-from-behind finishes, the Loons in Minnesota have been getting better by the game and Molino has proven to be one of the main guys there, Cato, while haven’t seeing the field much, he’s been decent off the bench, and Kenwyne, who, for Atlanta, has not been able to make a significant impact, due to injury and Atlanta simply having better options at the front.
But of all the teams listed, Atlanta United to me, since the season started, have not looked like an expansion team at all. From the jump, the Five Stripes have been in my eyes,one of the most exciting teams in the MLS, and since moving into the new Mercedes-Benz Arena, they’ve looked nearly unstoppable. After starting the season with a loss against the New York Red Bulls at home, they went to a winter wonderland up in Minnesota, field almost blanketed in snow, Atlanta ran rampant against their fellow expansion team Minnesota United. Atlanta looked like a well established MLS club, putting 6 goals on Molino’s team. From then on, only Toronto FC have scored more goals this season than Atlanta United (Toronto: 67, Atlanta: 63).
The team starts with former Barcelona manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino, known for his fast-paced, high-pressed, counter-attacking brand of football. His main guy is Venezuelan Josef Martinez, the loanee from Torino, who will now play for Atlanta United for the forseeable future, who fits the system set by Tata. In 16 games played, he’s scored 17 goals, including 8 goals in 5 matches since Atlanta United started playing in the new stadium.
Even when he went down during the middle of the season with a Hamstring Injury, Tata still had other attacking options such as the creative Paraguayan, Miguel Almiron, the speedy Argentine wingers Argentine Héctor “Tito” Villalba and loanee Yamil Asad, who scored Atlanta United’s inaugural goal against the Red Bulls. Add to that a steady midfield options such as Julian Gressel, Carlos Carmona, defenders like Anton Walkes, Michael Parkhurst and Greg Garza, and Brad Guzan who splits time with Tim Howard as the goalkeeper on USMNT, it’s a stacked roster that has taken Atlanta United on the brink of the MLS post-season in their first season.
One more thing that has impressed me with the franchise it’s the huge fan support that Atlanta United has garnered leading up and during their inaugural season. Owner Arthur Blank, who also owns the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL, had a vision of soccer in the south and made it a reality. Team President Darren Eales did a great job with front office decisions. Tata Martino compiled the roster and the players delivered. The fanbase one one of the biggest and most loyal in the league already, so much that even the local rappers and DJs have been seen sporting the Five Stripes.
The football culture is something to behold down in Atlanta, Georgia and if the team keeps the momentum up this season, we could have a dark horse for the MLS Cup in December.