Atlanta United had a week off to focus after a disappointing match against NYCFC before they took on Inter Miami this past Wednesday. With the Eastern Conference standings in such a strange place, the Miami match felt like a must-win. Ultimately, the Five Stripes came out on top to give their playoff dreams a boost (more on that in another article), but that wasn’t the only win against Miami this week. The Atlanta United Special Olympics Unified team also played against the Herons before the first team match and fought to their first win. Finally, it seems some notable transfer news is blooming in the form of Thiago Almada. It’s been an interesting week, and here’s how it played out.
- Atlanta United Surge From Behind to Beat Inter Miami 2-1
Mercedes-Benz Stadium was quiet at half time on Wednesday after a Gonzalo Higuain penalty kick put the visitors up 1-0. Atlanta United played a shaky first half in which Josef was silent, Barco was fouled at every opportunity (surprise), and the main threat came from Luiz Araujo. The midfield looked rather disjointed and Miami had way more close opportunities than they should have.
One of those came in the form of a dangerous ball that saw Brad Guzan have to come off his line to deal with, and his challenge against the attacking Miami player was just late enough to be the cause of a PK after being reviewed by VAR. Gonzalo Higuain took the kick and sent Brad the wrong way to silence the Atlanta faithful, and it suddenly felt like the team would have to dig deep to come away with a draw and hope other games went their way in the playoff race.
Thankfully, that’s not what happened. Gonzalo Pineda made some tweaks at half time, and a new team walked out of the locker room. Anton Walkes didn’t have his best match and had received a yellow, so he was removed to bring in Marcelino Moreno. The resident Mandalorian actually didn’t start, it was later revealed, due to a foot injury that had left him unable to walk earlier in the week. But when he came on, along with the formation change, Atlanta suddenly looked alive. It wasn’t long before we saw more of Barco getting rocked, but one such foul led to this beauty.
It can’t be worded better than that tweet: that goal breathed life into the entire stadium. Araujo sent the ball under the wall and instantly things seemed right again. It felt like the lights got turned back on in the Benz and the team started aggressively hammering Miami’s defense. Then, another goal almost came in a couple of back-to-back volleys against the Heron’s keeper, including a tight angled shot by Barco that spun off the bar. It wasn’t long, though, before Josef Martinez felt that aforementioned energy and went airborne to head home a ball off a beautiful cross. And then the AR threw up his flag and called it offsides. Whatever.
Apparently that angered El Rey more than anyone else in the stadium, because he wasn’t to be denied a second time. A very short time later, Alan Franco connected with Brooks Lennon, who skedaddled upfield and sent in a tight ball to Luiz Araujo (there’s that guy, again), who turned and put a 2018 ball through to a 2018 Josef. And everything seemed right again.
That second goal sent the atmosphere inside the Benz into orbit, and a few subs were made shortly thereafter to shore up the defense for the Five Stripes. It was a dicey, scary final few minutes that saw all kinds of fouls, yellow cards, and a couple of Brad Guzan wonder-saves to keep the match where it should be: firmly in Atlanta’s hand. Speaking of the polar bear...I think I speak for quite a few of us, myself included, when I say we’ve had our rough Guzan moments. Earlier in the season I really thought Atlanta may do well to sell Guzan and slot Alec Kann and Rocco Rios Novo up. But Guzan has shown a new level of class as of late and, though we may never know, his constant voice from the backline and his spectacular saves in the past few games have helped keep this team from falling out of playoff contention just as much as the offense. Ultimately, it was a couple of those saves that solidified the win in a still shaky game management situation, and Atlanta is sitting in a good spot because of them.
2. Atlanta United Special Olympics Unified Team Defeats Miami 3-2
I’m going to insert another personal note here to drive this point home. Anyone who reads my articles knows how much I truly love this team and the culture that’s developed around it. The Unified team is the latest and greatest in so many heartwarming stories that Atlanta United has delivered. My family and I arrived to Mercedes-Benz Stadium Wednesday for the first team match (something we’ve been blessed to do more this year), and we got there early to let the kids enjoy the Home Depot Backyard (free Captain Morgan drinks!).
We exited the car and immediately heard the train horn from a distance. The Unified team had just scored an absolute golazo against Miami, and the first team was inside celebrating their success as their own. This was what was happening a few hundred yards from us inside the Benz.
OH. MY. GOODNESS.— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) October 27, 2021
Absolute golazo by Dylan Lenze pic.twitter.com/dM9qcA9n3J
Listen to that with the sound up. Dylan put that ball in like a rocket! And that wasn’t the only goal; Atlanta would end up winning the match 3-2.
This is an outstanding and wonderful aspect of this club, and I truly wish the gates would have been open for fans to go support them in person. That would be an amazing addition to any home match in the future; if you have a ticket to the first team match, get there early and show the Unified team some love. Either way, the first team being there to support them was really neat to see, and fans should swell with pride that their team is able to be a part of building this addition to the Five Stripes and to Unified Sports as a whole. Bravo!
3. Thiago Almada Transfer Closer to Becoming a Done Deal
This is some interesting, and potentially divisive, news. In a perfect world, Ezequiel Barco will soon be sold to Europe in another great business move and Thiago Almada will arrive as his replacement. That may absolutely still hold true. Almada clearly has the talent to arrive at MLS and make a difference. Unfortunately, he may also bring some baggage; key word there being “may.”
“[The Atlanta United move] almost happened a few months, but it was delayed. Everything is on track for December or January. I thought about it with my family and my representative. We decided that if the move happens, we will sign and go.”— Ronald Peña (@ronaldpen_a) October 28, 2021
Thiago Almada on his move to #ATLUTD https://t.co/7Hxjilc185 pic.twitter.com/Jsdz0xZPp7
According to multiple sources (Ronald is the first I saw) Almada is still set to arrive in the winter transfer window. Atlanta United would likely not still be pursuing the young man had they found any significant issues after the previous talks, but in the interest of being open, here are the potential issues being brought up.
First, Almada has been entangled in a sexual assault controversy in his native Argentina. Secondly, in a recent celebration Almada made what some may consider a racist gesture. The cultural differences are clearly a factor; he slanted his eyes in a manner that has been being reported about for years, and has been a point of contention among South American players for a ridiculously long time. Many worldwide players have done the same thing, including one Cristiano Ronaldo. The issue comes in how it may be perceived in the United States. Surely the front office would have had the conversation with him already about such things, but it still happened nonetheless.
Finally, Almada has made it clear he wants to use MLS as a springboard to Europe. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For Atlanta’s sake, hopefully he comes here, shows out, and gets sold for a Miggy profit. But it does draw the question of, “How dedicated will he truly be?”
Could Almada be an amazing acquisition? Absolutely. Could his past be just a well-reported cloud of nothing? For sure. Fans will just have to pray he comes in with the same mindset and work ethic as Luiz Araujo has. He reportedly will be arriving on a contract until 2025 with an extra year option, but who knows what the ins-and-outs of the actual contract state. Here’s hoping he gets to the dirty south and becomes a great fit for the club as a whole.
4. Multiple Atlanta Players Nominated For Awards
The end of the season is nigh, and with that comes various MLS awards. Atlanta United has quite a few nominated players, and they are all well deserved. Here they are:
2021 Landon Donovan MLS MVP: Ezequiel Barco and Marcelino Moreno
MLS Defender of the Year: Miles Robinson
MLS Comeback Player of the Year: Josef Martinez
Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year: Brad Guzan
MLS Newcomer of the Year: Santiago Sosa and Luiz Araujo
Young Player of the Year: Ezequiel Barco and George Bello
MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year: Mikey Ambrose
Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year: Gonzalo Pineda
That’s an impressive list of names, and it would be surprising if Atlanta didn’t take home a couple of those awards. Specifically, Miles should be spot on for the Defender of the Year, and Josef has indeed made a strong argument for Comeback Player of the Year. ACL surgery, issues from the surgery, COVID, international duty, and he still is barely outside the Golden Boot race? It would be surprising if Barco didn’t have a shot at Young Player of the Year, but Ricardo Pepi might have that one on lock. Finally, Marcelino Moreno’s contributions to this club since he arrived last year can’t be understated. He’s an all around MVP if the club ever saw one, because he was the only goal-scoring threat Atlanta had for most of 2020 and half of 2021. No matter who takes what, this is an impressive list of names for the end-of-year awards.
Atlanta United moves on to battle Toronto tomorrow at home, and they’ll be looking to play the role of spoiler after the Five Stripes knocked them out of the playoff race recently. They’re always a dangerous team based on sole talent alone, even when they’re sitting near the bottom of the standings, but they’ll be without one Yeferson Soteldo. That should serve Atlanta well as they look to snatch up three more points to solidify a playoff spot.
And there it is, the four things you need to know about Atlanta United this week! The next edition is prayerfully going to be full of celebration and THEM FIVE STRIPES tweets. In the meantime, enjoy my collection of LGP yellow cards.