Atlanta has pulled a massive 180 in the last six months… and not necessarily for the positive. At the end of 2018, they were the Supporters’ Shield runners up and won the MLS Cup at home, where they also enjoyed the league’s highest attendance rating. Their star striker and Designated Player, Josef Martinez, set a league record for 31 goals and handily won the Golden Boot trophy. Things looked like they would only get better from there.
Jump to today. After six games, Atlanta sits in the bottom of the Eastern Conference, have only scored five goals, and have yet to win a game at home. As a reversal of fortunes, we have one player (Kei Kamara) with as many goals as their entire team. How did they get there?
It’s a matter of really two people who left the club and the two they brought in to replace them. First is Miguel Almiron. The Paraguayan midfielder, having made 62 appearances for Atlanta and scored 21 goals, was sold to Newcastle United in the Premier League for around $27 million (a club record and the highest fee for an MLS player to date). Almiron was an absolute rock for their team and was arguably the key player to Atlanta’s success.
After he left, Atlanta ponied up and went big for their third DP. In came Pity Martinez. On paper, he seemed to be a very like-for-like player. Both attacking midfielders as well as young South American players who came from Argentine clubs and are both national team-level talents. Martinez seemed like a great fit for MLS, especially after having been named the South American player of the year. However, he has failed to make the same impact that Almiron has had.
The second point of contention is Atlanta’s coach. Since Atlanta joined Major League Soccer in 2017, their coach was Tata Martino, a former Argentine player who coached the national team. He led Atlanta to an incredible level of success, as evidenced by them earning their first MLS Cup in only their second year. However, rumors started floating around towards the end of 2018 saying that Martino was being offered the job of coaching the Mexican national team. Those rumors turned out to be true and he was announced as the head of El Tri in January. In his place, Atlanta brought in Frank de Boer. A longtime Ajax star and coach, he had stints in Serie A and the Premier League with Internazionale and Crystal Palace, respectively.
In de Boer’s short tenure so far, Atlanta has been a very different team. They’ve been changing their formation frequently, as this season they’ve been swapping between a 3-4-3, a 4-3-3, and a 4-2-3-1. Certain players, like the aforementioned Martinezes and third DP Ezequiel Barco, are a guaranteed appearance. Brad Guzan will of course be squaring off against Tim Howard in goal. In left back, we may see T̶i̶l̶d̶a̶ ̶S̶w̶i̶n̶t̶o̶n̶ Brek Shea, who has made a bit of a comeback and is looking pretty decent for them. Youth player Miles Robinson has been having a breakout year, along with Leandro González Pirez, who has… not been having a very good year.
Also of note, when researching their roster, this is what you see on Atlanta United’s website:
I wonder how having your own supporters on your roster affects cap space. Do they count as homegrown? Did they need to use TAM or GAM? Is it possible they are just on loan from the Atlanta Falcons?
Regardless, it is hard to tell how this matchup is going to go. The Rapids have been having some serious defensive issues, but Atlanta hasn’t quite returned to their 2018 form. Our offense is doing well, with Kamara already eclipsing last year’s Golden Boot winner, but Atlanta hasn’t exactly had a weak defense either, only allowing eight goals in six games.
With stalwart midfielder Jack Price out for the Rapids due to a red card suspension, and Kellyn Acosta questionable with a hamstring injury, our midfield might be a very different lineup than we’re normally used to. Might we see Danny Wilson in as a true defensive midfielder? Will we see Cole Bassett get another start? And as for the fanbase, how are you all feeling as we approach our ninth game of the season?