I don’t know about y’all, but I’m ready for this break to be over. Atlanta United is just a couple of days away from diving back into MLS action against Inter Miami after coming off a few weeks of rest, but despite the extended international break, plenty of news and rumors have emerged in the world of the Five Stripes. In case you’ve missed anything, this will be your one-stop shop to get completely caught up as we enter the next portion of the season. There’s a smorgasbord to cover, so let’s dive in.
Atlanta United Become Champions (Again) And Celebrate a Weekend of the Beautiful Game
The inaugural American Family Insurance Cup kicked off Tuesday evening as Atlanta United squared off against C.F. Pachuca in the most important match of 2022 (so far). I’m only partially kidding; these two teams came to play and most definitely did not treat the match like a friendly; a trophy was indeed on the line. Additionally, this favorable result could be a morale boosting springboard for the team as they head back into MLS play. It was a high flying game involving mostly a first choice XI for the first half, and a mix of both club’s second teams and backups for the second half.
Before the quick recap, though, keep in mind that Thiago Almada is now suspended for the next three league matches, so the starting XI Gonzalo Pineda fielded in the AmFam Cup will probably be fairly close to what is seen on Sunday against Miami. One notable addition to that squad was the re-debut of Rocco Rios Novo in goal, and he performed well enough that Pineda himself noted he had fought his way into consideration to start.
Besides being a fun celebration of the beautiful game, the AmFam Cup gave fans a chance to watch a team they may not otherwise have the ability to see in Pachuca. The Liga MX 2022 Clausura runners-up, they brought a high-pressing team that served as outstanding competition for Atlanta United in a period when the Five Stripes need some sharpening. The event itself also ushered in some fun community events which we’ll touch on first, like the second Supporter’s Day where the Supporter’s Groups were brought to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground to not only watch training, but also meet and greet players and actually participate in activities with them. Crossbar contest, anyone?
On Sunday, the #ATLUTD training ground turned into the Gulch.— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) June 13, 2022
It was an unforgettable day shared with our Original Supporter Groups ❤️
The inaugural 3v3 Kickoff Tournament also was a huge success. This was a youth (U8-U14) small-side tournament consisting of kids from all over, and besides being a genuinely fun event, it demonstrated that Georgia has some seriously talented youth on the way up.
Never give up— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) June 11, 2022
Hapeville FC fires back and advances to the championship matches pic.twitter.com/Wh0kv8AiSO
This is what it’s all about ❤️ pic.twitter.com/pgokWew1ak— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) June 11, 2022
Brad Guzan and Ozzie Alonso spent the day with the kids at the tournament, as well, and the entered teams got tickets to the AmFam Cup match. Hopefully this event becomes an annual part of the AmFam Cup tradition.
Those weren’t the only soccer matches to be played during this long celebration, though. Atlanta United also hosted its first Club/Media game (just saying if y’all need someone else next year you know how to contact me) which saw the two teams comprised of a mixture of Gonzalo Pineda, Darren Eales, Carlos Bocanegra, Diego de la Torre, the Atlanta media team, and media members including our own Joe Patrick. This was yet another great example of the culture and tradition Pineda is trying to solidify at the club, and by all accounts it was incredibly fun.
And then there was, of course, the actual American Family Insurance Cup match. Atlanta United came out hot, scoring two goals within the first ten minutes of the match from some outstanding interplay and work between Marcelino Moreno, Luiz Araujo, and Josef Martinez. Josef would go on to win Man of the Match for his goal contribution and assist to Luiz Araujo. The set-piece monster would soon rear its ugly head, however, as an admittedly very well placed corner found it’s way into the back of the net. Just a few short minutes later, Atlanta’s insistence on playing out of the back through pressure backfired, and a sloppy giveaway led to a wonderful Rios Novo stop, which then bounced from him just wide to be tapped in.
The second half saw ten Atlanta United changes, bringing in a large number of Atlanta United 2 players along with some first team staples like Dom Dwyer, Thiago Almada, Amar Sejdic, Santiago Sosa, and Aled de John. It also saw the return of Machop Chol, and the Mercedes-Benz debuts of guys like Ajani Fortune and Erik Centeno. It was this group that would hold the second half down defensively, while Erik Centeno pressured Pachuca to win a turnover. He quickly sent it forward to Fortune, who laid it off for Dom Dwyer who then became Atlanta United’s number one goal scorer in all competitions this year and if that isn’t crazy to type I don’t know what is. In all seriousness though, Dom Dwyer is rapidly becoming an Atlanta folklore legend and is one of the best inexpensive pickups in MLS, all while winning over the fans of the team that used to hate him. Atlanta United would go on to hoist the inaugural AmFam Cup, defeating Pachuca 3-2, and increasing their home winning streak against Liga MX teams at home to 4. What a week.
1. The discovery of fire— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) June 16, 2022
2. The invention of the submarine
3. The American Family Insurance Cup pic.twitter.com/EzjRDjVJ1W
Transfer Rumors Abound
With the summer transfer window rapidly approaching on July 7th, it’s only natural that the rumors would start flying. Atlanta needs help, and they also need to take advantage of every transfer window not only for the immediate fixes but for the longterm health of the club. Two names have been flying around, Juan Jose Sanchez Purata at center back, and Raul Gudino at goalkeeper, both from Liga MX.
TUDN’s Daniel Nohra and Vladimir Garcia first reported that Purata was set to join Atlanta United, with a potential announcement allegedly coming almost a week ago. No such announcement has happened, but Cesar Luis Merlo posted on Wednesday that the move was confirmed. Putting the details aside, the center back position is one of two Atlanta desperately needs help in. The reports indicate Purata would be a loan with an option to buy, similar to what’s happening with Ronaldo Cisneros currently.
The second big rumor involves Raúl Gudiño, a goalkeeper with both FIFA Club World Cup and UEFA Champions League minutes. These reports were first mentioned on June 11th by René Tovar of ESPN MX, where he specifically mentioned Gudiño would arrive to be Atlanta’s starting keeper.
Estoy casi seguro que Raúl Gudiño cerrará con Atlanta United de la MLS. Sé que el exguardameta de las Chivas será el titular del equipo dirigido por Gonzalo Pineda. En cualquier momento se hará oficial el fichaje, si el Diablo no mete la cola. @ESPNmx— René Tovar (@Rene_Tovar) June 12, 2022
This rumor took a turn midweek when it was mentioned that Gudiño was chasing other offers from Saudi Arabian clubs al-Nasr and al-Shabab. However, it seems now that the 6’5” goalkeeper may be signing a 2.5 year deal with the Five Stripes after all. Tovar mentions offers from “European” clubs in his tweet, as well. Who knows if this was all in effort to start a bit of competition for him, but a solid 26 year old goalkeeper would be a prime catch long term for Atlanta.
Raúl Gudiño firmará su contrato con Atlanta United ppr dos temporadas y media. Tuvo ofertas europeas, pero decidió finalmente probar en el equipo de Gonzalo Pineda. Me parece buena decisión. @ESPNmx— René Tovar (@Rene_Tovar) June 16, 2022
As a side note, it was mentioned by Tom Bogert that Atlanta United had been chasing American Josh Cohen, but he ultimately decided to stay in Israel.
American GK Josh Cohen has agreed in principle to a one-year extension with Maccabi Haifa, I'm told. Contract was expiring this summer.— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) June 15, 2022
Atlanta United came very close to signing him. Other MLS teams interested, but Cohen stays 1 more year. Haifa in Champions League qualifiers. pic.twitter.com/zmqWDcSqz3
Atlanta Becomes One of the Cities to Host 2026 World Cup Matches
This hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but FIFA announced the 16 cities hosting the matches for the 2026 World Cup yesterday and Atlanta has indeed made the list! This is a celebratory moment for the city of Atlanta, for soccer fans in general, and for all of the groups that worked so hard to make this happen.
“We have the pleasure of celebrating Atlanta’s selection as a host city of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, because of our strong, bipartisan public-private partnerships and many who have been working for years to put Georgia on the map since we hosted the 1996 Olympics,” said Governor Brian P. Kemp. “This premiere event will have a positive impact on so many hardworking Georgians. Hotels will fill with guests from around the world; restaurants will provide visitors a taste of the South they will not soon forget; attractions across Georgia will welcome those seeking to experience all the Peach State has to offer; and in each interaction, people will see Georgia’s Southern hospitality on full display. The world will be watching as we meet this moment, and we’re proud of all the entities who worked so hard to get us to this point.”
BREAKING: The World Cup is coming to Atlanta. https://t.co/RE9dUPV08r— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) June 16, 2022
Much of this journey should be credited to Arthur Blank, as he clearly had this in mind when shelling out the money for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the first place. Atlanta United’s explosion onto the scene of world soccer was the cherry on top.
“This is an incredible opportunity for the city of Atlanta to continue to show the world what we have to offer,” said Arthur M. Blank, Owner and Chairman of The Blank Family of Businesses, including Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “Our stadium was built to host world-class events, and we would be honored to continue that tradition in 2026 with the World Cup,” Blank continued. “I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Atlanta World Cup Bid Committee, especially the Atlanta Sports Council, Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau and our AMBSE leadership team, for their diligent work over the past few years that has led us to today’s announcement. There is still more work to be done, and I look forward to working with our public and private partners, FIFA and our local community to bring these spectacular global games to Atlanta.”
Atlanta stands to host a few matches, though at this point it seems that information won’t be revealed/known for another year or so. Mercedes-Benz is, however, in the running to host a semi-final match, which would be huge. Centennial Olympic Park and Piedmont Park have both been mentioned as possibilities for the fan fest, with both having some pros and cons. There is also the possibility Atlanta could be chosen as the site for communications for the tournament, which would only add to the prestige for the city.
Atlanta joins Los Angeles as the only city in the U.S. to host both the Olympics and the World Cup, and a very short list of cities with those same accomplishments worldwide. It’s currently estimated that the city will benefit from about $415 million in economic benefits for the tournament, and the tournament overall could provide countless intangible but obvious benefits to the popularity of soccer in this country.
Start saving up now, folks, it’s going to be fun.
Atlanta United to all those who downplayed the 2018 #MLS Cup win after the Braves won the World Series last year now that almost $500 million will be poured into the city in 2026 #ATLUTD #UniteAndConquer #FifaWorldCup2026 pic.twitter.com/9m0yvMCCGf— Tyler Pilgrim (@ATLPilgrim) June 17, 2022
MLS and Apple Reach an Incredible Deal
While not Atlanta United specific, this is huge news for MLS and the Leagues Cup as a whole. The two sides have reached a rather lucrative deal where every MLS match will be streamed via Apple TV using a new MLS package starting in 2023. While pricing on the particular package is unclear at this point, all signs point to customers being able to purchase the MLS content separately from Apple TV+. One of the greatest aspects of the deal is the inclusion of no blackouts, which has been a huge point of contention over the past few years.
In addition to all matches, there will also be tons of other content including a whip-around show and various specials pertaining to the game as it’s played here in North America. It also appears MLS will be going to a primarily Wednesday and Saturday schedule for matches, while fans will have the option to automatically sync up their local radio broadcast over the live match. Beyond that, MLS will rake in boatloads of cash from the deal to the tune of $250 million dollars. If that money is invested correctly (read previous World Cup point), it could assuage the fears floating around that a full streaming option would slow down the growth of the game in the United States. It also provides a financial incentive to MLS players, which could further assist in drawing in more premier talent.
Ultimately, I’m incredibly relieved to not have to perform the rain dance while facing southeast with one eye closed to watch certain Atlanta United matches. But that’s just me.
And with that, you’re all caught up! It’s been a long break, but the MLS season gets back underway for the Five Stripes on Sunday as the guys take on Inter Miami at home in the Benz. Vamos.