Today, SB Nation Soccer unveils all of its MLS team previews. These are basic primers to get you ready for the season ahead. So here’s our challenge to you: if this all feels basic and rudimentary to you, share it with someone who you know wants to be more of an Atlanta United fan. Could be a spouse, classmate, sibling, etc. Sometimes when we talk about Atlanta United, especially here on this site, we immediately jump into the deep end. Let’s invite some others into the pool, yeah?
How did Atlanta United finish last season?
Ok, so what happened was —
we won MLS Cup. But let us not forget that just weeks before this glorious moment, the mood was pretty bleak. Atlanta United threw away a chance to also win the Supporters’ Shield — the trophy given to the best team in the regular season — with a loss on the road to Toronto. While MLS Cup is certainly the highest profile trophy to win due to the commercial activity tied to it, the Supporters’ Shield is probably the most difficult to capture. The Supporters’ Shield is a test of not just a team’s peak quality, but it’s consistency throughout the season. While Atlanta United tied the previous MLS benchmark for the best regular season in MLS history, the New York Red Bulls eclipsed that mark, setting a new league points record.
What’s new in 2019?
A lot. Atlanta United has a new coach in Frank de Boer (a true legend of the game as a player) after the club’s only other coach, Tata Martino, chose to move on and has taken charge of the Mexican national team.
Atlanta also lost a key player in Miguel Almiron, who is now the best player at Newcastle United in the Premier League. Atlanta wouldn’t let a player like Almiron leave without bringing in reinforcements, though. Argentine attacking midfielder Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez was purchased from South American champions River Plate for what might be a MLS record fee. And for good reason; Pity was voted as the South American player of the Year by media last season. There are big shoes to fill, but both men have the pedigree to do just that.
GK - Mitch Hildebrandt (Option declined)
D - Sal Zizzo (Option declined)
D- Greg Garza (12/11/2018 - Trade to Cincinnati FC)
D - Chris McCann (2/9/2019 - Released on waivers to DC United)
M - Oliver Shannon (Option declined)
M - Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu (Option declined)
M - Miguel Almiron (1/31/2019 - Transfer to Newcastle FC)
GK - Brandon Moore (1/8/2019 - Transfer from Rochdale)
D - Florentin Pogba (2/4/2019 - Transfer from Gençlerbirliği)
D/M - Brek Shea (12/30/2018 - Free agent)
M - Dion Periera (1/15/2019 - Transfer from Watford)
M - Anderson Asiedu (2019 MLS SuperDraft)
M - Amir Bashti (2019 MLS SuperDraft)
M - Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez (2/12/2019 - Transfer from River Plate)
What’s the new jersey?
Atlanta was required by MLS law to adopt a new home shirt this season (every year, MLS teams replace one of their home or away shirts, alternating between the two). Atlanta has added some stripes, and more importantly, a star, signifying the club’s 2018 championship.
Go back to the coach again. Legend, you say? Who is he?
Yeah, he’s prettttty famous in the soccer world. He won a Champions League title while playing for Ajax, the biggest club in Dutch soccer and one that has gained fame for its track record at producing star players. He played there for 11 years before he went on to play for Barcelona for 4 seasons. But as a player, he’s most famous for his role in the Dutch national team, having received 112 caps — the most of any non-goalkeeper in Dutch history.
After his playing days, he got back into coaching almost immediately with his boyhood club Ajax’s youth system. From there, he was a special assistant for the Dutch national team, including in 2010 when the Netherlands made it to the World Cup Final, something De Boer never achieved as a player himself. He eventually became the manager at Ajax and lead the club to four straight league titles, a new league record.
But since then, he had two ugly spells at foreign clubs, neither of which lasted a full season. In fact, they only lasted a half season COMBINED. The first was at world-renowned Italian club Inter Milan, and the second was in the Premier League at Crystal Palace, where he only lasted 5 league games before getting axed.
His qualities in developing young players and his track record for sustaining success with Ajax is certainly something that will come in handy in Atlanta.
Oh, and he can still kick the ball pretty well. Funny how legends never forget how to do that.
What’s our projected starting XI?
A fully fit squad might look something like this. De Boer prefers a 3-4-3.
Expectations for 2019?
Okay, maybe that’s not the expectation, but it is the objective. But this year, Atlanta is playing in a new competition called the CONCACAF (North and Central America) Champions League. It’s a different competition from MLS that runs concurrently. MLS matches are played on the weekends and the Champions League — comprised of the top club teams from the region — is played in the middle of the week. Atlanta has already kicked off this competition and is losing 3-1 after the first leg against its opponent, a Costa Rican club, CS Herediano.
Considering the CCL campaign is a new and complex challenge, it might be a reach to “expect” Atlanta to make another run at the Supporters’ Shield. But that said, there’s no clear favorite, and unlike last year, it’s unlikely the top end of the league is as prolific as it was last season.
What’s the biggest concern for this season?
The biggest challenge for Atlanta United this season will be the changes that the team has to adapt to from last year. In 2019, there’s new everything: new coaches, new key players, a new competition to play in... Atlanta will even play a one-off game against the Mexican champion in the second half of the season in a recently concocted
moneygrab cup final called the Campeones Cup. There will be a lot of adaptation that needs to happen over the course of the season, and it surely won’t happen without some bumps and bruises along the way.
Who is THE player to watch?
It’s Pity Martinez. I know, I know Josef Martinez was the Golden Boot winner last season, scoring more goals than anyone else has done before him in MLS history. I get that. And honestly, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him win a golden boot again. AND STILL, he’s not THE player to watch. Pity is the guy to watch not because of the goals or assists or statistics (though he will have his fair share, to be sure). You want to watch Pity because he snatches opponents’ souls. He puts the ball through their legs and leaves them considering retirement right there on the spot. It’s SO FUN TO WATCH.
This is like me trying to get the ball off the amazing guy on the other team in coed pic.twitter.com/aIhafSZdvL— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) February 22, 2019
How much will this roster change after the season starts?
The roster appears to be pretty much set, at least until the summer transfer window when teams in Europe will start to splash the cash and be the catalyst for the wider market of players. This preseason, we reported that Darlington Nagbe was unsettled here in Atlanta and was attempting to make a move to the Columbus Crew and team up with his former coach Caleb Porter. While Nagbe is now back with the team and this episode is now behind us, it’s possible for the rumors to creep back in this summer. Last year, Atlanta had to deal with a similar situation, except they actually lost a key central midfielder, Carlos Carmona, before the start of the season. In the summer, Atlanta acquired Argentine Eric Remedi. If Nagbe’s discontent returns, the summer may be a more likely time for a move to happen since it’s easier to acquire a replacement.