We’ve arrived at sunset of the third week in the 2022 MLS season, and Atlanta United has now officially won as many games in three tries as it did in 13 attempts under Gabriel Heinze. A stumbling Montreal arrives at the Benz on Saturday in another “should-win” scenario for the Five Stripes, as they’ve now had some time to mesh Thiago Almada into the fold and get other folks healthy and fit. Week 4 could set Atlanta up to head into the international break with a ton of positivity while also giving Luiz Araújo, Santiago Sosa, and others more time off to recover. In the meantime, though, let’s recap a few notable points from the past week in the world of the Kings of the South.
Atlanta Defeats Charlotte in Their First Meeting
The win wasn’t always pretty despite Atlanta initially demonstrating some truly dominant football, but the first meeting between the Kings of the South and the Queen City ended with the Five Stripes bagging all three points in a 2-1 victory. Unfortunately, Charlotte FC was given a bit of time to grow into the game, and though there was an Atlanta goal called back by a foul in the box (yes, it was a foul and yes, it doesn’t get called in 99.9% of matches worldwide, luck strikes yet again) Atlanta was able to go up 1-0 from a Josef penalty kick.
Charlotte was able to bounce right back on a goal conceded from a set piece (shocker), and the game seemed to be headed towards a frustrating draw. Credit to both goalkeepers in this match for stepping up big to make some outstanding saves, but Charlotte got turned on their collective head in the final minutes of stoppage time by none other than the Irishman himself, Jake Mulraney.
THAT ball from Moreno— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) March 13, 2022
THAT finish from Mulraney pic.twitter.com/HIXaWAjRNY
(Side note, kudos to Xylph on Twitter, but this clip with Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” is absolute gold)
Let’s take a moment and appreciate everything about that video, from the Mando Moreno long ball (what a dime) to Jake’s finish, and then Andrew Gutman sending the ball into the heavens as Charlotte players literally collapsed. It was ridiculously hair-raising at the end, but the Five Stripes pulled off a win that meant as much for morale as it did for the Eastern Conference standings.
Another noteworthy story from this match is the absolute mental ‘ish-housery Osvaldo Alonso laid on Charlotte players not once, but twice. The first happened when Josef was preparing to take his penalty kick and was being harassed; he gestured and immediately Ozzie appeared, said something unreal, and suddenly the entire Charlotte team had him surrounded and Josef was left alone. What’s even better is that Charlotte has since been fined for this incident for mass confrontation, so they have Ozzie to thank for losing money, as well.
Secondly, Ozzie took a late yellow in the match after some continued shenanigans by the opposition. It was one of those yellows that a veteran knows is necessary to change the mental game a bit, and nothing else can be said other than he knew exactly what he was doing. A leader like Alonso has been sorely missed since the days of Jeff Larentowicz, Michael Parkhurst, and LGP, all of whom had that IQ to be able to push buttons with the best of them (LGP might have taken it a bit far but...). This was exactly why Pineda brought Alonso in, and he’s living up to and surpassing the expectations.
Finally, this match also marked the introduction of Thiago Almada to the Benz, and what an introduction it was.
A new chapter in a new home.— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) March 17, 2022
Bienvenido a casa, Thiago pic.twitter.com/pqUHalhvku
Some quick notes about Thiago in his debut. He seemed very smooth on the ball and though his face told a different story when he stepped on the field to the roar of Mercedes-Benz, he seemed to settle in to some classy, calm soccer. He was even involved in getting back on some defensive action, which is so important with the style of play Pineda is trying to implement. No, he didn’t come out and score a goal in the roughly 35 minutes he was on the pitch, but his quality was blatantly obvious. Again, he just arrived at the training ground last Thursday, and only had one day with the team in training before this Charlotte match. Here’s hoping the chemistry is quick to develop between him and the rest of MAMA.
Atlanta United Donates $300,000 Towards Building Mini-Pitches Around Georgia
A quick backstory on this: the Atlanta United Foundation is working with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to build a total of 100 mini soccer pitches throughout Georgia. The effort has been going on since 2020, in fact. This year’s contribution of $300,000 will bring the total of pitches being built to 20, with the goal of building all of them before the 2026 World Cup.
The four locations that will benefit this year are in Lilburn, Hogansville, Mableton, and Gainesville. The first ones are set to begin opening later this year, as well, so be sure to keep an eye out as they begin popping up around the state.
As part of the GA 100 campaign’s goal to create 100 mini-pitches across the state, $300,000 will be directed to four organizations. https://t.co/w8CRJHu3oq— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) March 14, 2022
Caleb Wiley and Miles Robinson Get International Call-Ups
The international break is almost upon us, and two Atlanta United players are on their way to represent the United States in the coming days. While Miles Robinson is fairly set in stone to be one of the USMNT defenders at this point, newcomer (to the first team) Caleb Wiley is on his way to the U-20 MYNT to play matches in Argentina.
Hopefully we see both of these guys show out in their respective camps, as Miles could exponentially increase his worth and Wiley could get some outstanding experience to bring back to Atlanta.
While the USMNT fights to secure their spot into the World Cup, Wiley and the United States U-20 Men’s Youth National Team will head to Argentina to take on their U-20 squad. In addition to that match, they will also play a match against River Plate’s first team (minus anyone called up for their own international duty), which is sure to be an enlightening experience for the youngin's. Kudos to U.S. Soccer for getting these guys some early, real-world experience against some very good teams.
Atlanta United 2 Fights But Loses 1-0 in Their First Two Matches
The scoreline for Atlanta United 2’s first two matches don't tell the entire story. They traveled to Louisville for their opener last Saturday, where they fell just short to an always stout Louisville City. On Wednesday, they met New York Red Bulls 2 at home shortly after a torrential downpour, which turned Fifth-Third into a bit of a swamp for the first half-hour. Afterwards, the pitch remained rather slippery, which was a huge factor throughout the match as players were slipping and sliding up until the final whistle.
It’s worth noting that Atlanta United’s two goalkeepers, Vicente Reyes and Justin Garces, have already showed a ton of promise. In fact, Vicente Reyes has already been nominated for a USL Save of the Week for this save against Louisville:
Then in the match against the energy drinks, Garces came up with this outstanding back-to-back set of saves:
With a bit of concern swirling as to the first team’s depth at goalkeeper with Brad Guzan reaching the last couple of years of his contract, it’s somewhat soothing knowing Reyes and Garces are in the pipeline as getting great experience in the meantime.
Perhaps the most underrated bit of Atlanta United news this week has to with how the team played at home against the Red Bulls. Aiden McFadden was unfortunately called for a studs-up tackle and given a straight red card in the 19th minute. However, they continued to play their game throughout the match in a 4-4-1 with Efrain Morales dropping back and having the game of his career thus far. They looked disciplined playing from the back, though it was a mistake in that strategy that led to the only goal of the match by the Red Bulls in the 66th minute.
Moments later, however, the Bulls Steven Sserwadda was given his second yellow and sent off, creating a hectic final 10 minutes that saw the 2’s knocking on the door to rescue a point. It wasn’t meant to be, though, but the most notable takeaway from the match was the absolute grit, fight, and discipline the team showed. They did well playing out of the back for the majority of the match while one man down, and came close to opening up their season’s scoring account. Atlanta fans have a lot to be excited about with the USL squad this season, despite the scoreline from the first matches.
Paulo Neto Adds Another Trophy to the Club in eMLS
The eMLS Cup has made it home to Atlanta. The MLS esports competition is an awesome way to bring a wider audience to the sport, and a way for fans to enjoy an entirely different competition pertaining to their favorite clubs. If you haven’t followed Paulo since he arrived to represent Atlanta United in 2018, just know the guy is a killer at FIFA, and he’s come agonizingly close to winning already.
In this tournament, Paulo fought his way through LAFC, Sporting Kansas City, and Toronto before facing D.C. United in the final. He would go on to win 5-3 on aggregate, tuning up one of the savviest goals of the tournament. Here are the quick highlights:
The eMLS Cup belongs to Atlanta— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) March 15, 2022
How @PauloNeto999 brought it home for us ⤵️
Congrats to Paulo for representing Atlanta United so well in yet another venue. Big clubs do big things throughout the year, and this is another example of Atlanta putting a foot forward to widen the dynasty and fanbase they’re trying to build. Whether it’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Bobby Dodd, 5/3, or the digital Benz, this club is trying to win everywhere. As someone who loves gaming and gaming competitions, this is super awesome to see.
And there it is, y’all, the five things to know about Atlanta United for Week 3! Here’s hoping we see a dominant Atlanta performance against a tired Montreal side this weekend, and don't forget to drop in at 7 P.M. after the match to chat as I’ll be alongside Stephanie, Sydney, and Tommy to react to whatever happens at the Benz on Saturday. Vamos.
Finally...these aren’t tears...