Atlanta United turned a dismal 2021 into a Cinderella story with the arrival of manager Gonzalo Pineda last summer, and their offseason has been about continuing that upward momentum. The Five Stripes have made some significant personnel changes and they’re diving into the 2022 season with one of the most high-powered attacks in the league. The likes of Josef Martinez, Luiz Araújo, Marcelino Moreno, and Thiago Almada (MAMA) form a quartet which will be a nightmare for defenders, while Pineda is focused on improving the entire group’s form and chemistry. If Gonzo’s offseason ideas coupled with this deeper lineup can truly gel, then more silverware could be in the immediate future.
Last season: (13-12-9), 5th in Eastern Conference, eliminated in the first round of playoffs.
Head Coach: Gonzalo Pineda
Key Additions: Thiago Almada, Osvaldo Alonso, Andrew Gutman (back from loan)
Key Losses: Ezequiel Barco, Anton Walkes, George Bello
Projected Best XI: (4-2-3-1) Josef Martínez, Luiz Araújo, Thiago Almada, Marcelino Moreno, Santiago Sosa, Mattheus Rossetto, Andrew Gutman, Brooks Lennon, Miles Robinson, Alan Franco, Brad Guzan.
Best Offseason Move: Thiago Almada has been described as a “generational talent” hailing from the Argentine side Vélez Sársfield. He was even linked to Manchester United a bit over a year ago and already has international experience in the Olympics. The Five Stripes went through a deep due diligence process in signing him that started in the summer of 2021, and he finally arrived in early February. Thiago is expected to turn heads as a dangerous playmaker on the left wing and through the middle, and he enters MLS to similar fanfare of his predecessor, Ezequiel Barco.
Best Reason to Pay Attention: The best reason to pay attention to Atlanta United in 2022 is Mama, of course. Bless your heart. The super talented and ridiculously expensive quartet of Martinez, Araujo, Moreno, and Almada looks to be outright scary to defenders, and it’s no secret they have huge expectations this season. The four of them, combined with a very aggressive midfield and a stout backline, will be playing high-flying, fast-paced, attacking soccer. Araujo and Almada have already publicly called for the MLS Cup, Josef has stated his desire to fight to 200 goals, and “Mando” Moreno has remained the silent killer he’s always been. The pedigree of this team indicates that, at minimum, supporters should be in for some absolute golazos, but it’s safe to say they’ll be looking to bring Atlanta’s swag back. Head coach Gonzalo Pineda hasn’t been shy, either, about the form of soccer he wants his team to play, and by unshackling the Five Stripes’ attacking players after he arrived in the summer of 2021 he effectively led them to one of the best points-per-game ratios in MLS. The manager they call “El Profe” has his sights set on nothing less than silverware, and he’ll be unleashing an angry Mama wielding one massive chancleta.
The One Glaring Weakness: The biggest issue plaguing Atlanta United is their need to develop chemistry and teamwork and lay aside some of the individual wonder works. Pineda took huge steps to remedy this by sending the players and staff to a training camp in Guadalajara, Mexico for two weeks where they lived, trained, ate, and played together. Last season, the Five Stripes’ designated players rarely saw the same field at the same time due to injuries and call-ups. Even now, despite the training camp and multiple friendlies, Marcelino Moreno has yet to play a match with Josef, Araujo, or Almada because of a lingering foot injury, though he admittedly deserved some time off after carrying the team at the end of 2020 and early 2021. Ultimately, this idea of chemistry is an issue that Pineda will need to remedy because it can’t be used as an excuse much longer. Either “MAMA” and the rest of the team “gets it,” or supporters are in for a long year of sitting on the edge of their seats while the team drives aggressively to goal and...doesn’t score.
Fun Fact to Impress Your Friends: Atlanta United’s president Darren Eales recently combined with hip-hop artist Waka Flocka to create a music video for Waka’s song “Dreads Shakin’.” The song was his first release in six years and the video was done entirely by Atlanta’s media team. Don’t think I’m going to let anyone forget about this, and I’m renewing my calls for it to be played at the end of every home halftime.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe character who most personifies this team: I’m giving credit on this one to our pal and fellow writer Sydney Hunt, who dropped an answer on this one like an episode of Jeopardy.
Tony Stark, and here is the reasoning: He’s brash, bold, and arrogant but with an empathetic side. He’s sarcastic and has some swag to back it all up. But as Iron Man, he’s nearly invincible. It fits the entire personality of Atlanta United, and it helps that his colors match, too.