Now that Atlanta United’s 2023 season has concluded and the next matchday is a few months away, it’s a good time to recognize some of the players that have made an impact this season.
Over the past week, I asked you - the fans - to vote on Twitter (X) for nominees in various superlative categories in order to create our Dirty South Soccer “Best of Atlanta United” list for the year. First, I want to thank the over 300 of you who voted in the provided Twitter polls.
Now, let’s unfurl the red-and-black carpet and hand out some awards!
Most Valuable Player: Thiago Almada
With an unrivaled production of 29 goal contributions (13 g, 16 a) this season, Guayo deservedly claims this year’s team MVP award. From his stunning free kicks to his eye-catching skill moves, the 22-year-old is a joy for fans to watch and a nightmare for opponents.
Fan vote aside, there is tangible proof that Almada was a very significant factor in this team’s ability to get results. His production speaks for himself, but his absence speaks just as loudly. Atlanta United was unable to win any of the five matches it played without Almada this year and was outscored in those games 14-6.
Almada is also currently a finalist for the Landon Donovan MLS MVP Award alongside FC Cincinnati’s Lucho Acosta and LAFC’s Denis Bouanga.
Most Valuable Player— Henry Higuita (@HAHiguita) November 13, 2023
Most Valuable Non-Designated Player: Brooks Lennon
With the MVP poll dominated by two DPs (sort of what you expect from them), I thought it would be interesting to see who people thought should be MVP with the franchise players taken out of the mix.
Brooks Lennon takes the award in this category after a career-best season with the Five Stripes. His four goals and 12 assists made him the third-most productive player in the squad across all competitions this season. Using his speed and pinpoint crossing accuracy while on the attack made him one of the best fullbacks in the league this season.
That paired with his ability to roam freely while the team was in possession made him a difficult force to reckon with as he would sometimes just appear in the box poised to strike. Lennon proved to be not only versatile, but a very consistent player that started 37 of 40 matches for the Five Stripes this season.
His mentality and talent make him a very valuable player to this team and he’ll no doubt be a key piece for the foreseeable future.
Most Valuable Non-Designated Player— Henry Higuita (@HAHiguita) November 13, 2023
Most Improved Player: Caleb Wiley
If you asked 18-year-old Caleb Wiley at the beginning of the year weather he expected to start 34 matches this season, play (and score) in the U-20 World Cup, get called into the senior US National Team and become one of the best young players in America, he’d probably laugh it off and say “we’ll see.”
At only 18 years of age, the Atlanta native has rapidly developed and become an important player for the Five Stripes. His talent and incredibly mature, professional mindset were enough to instill confidence in the front office and coaching staff to hand him the role of starting left back after Andrew Gutman’s midseason trade to Colorado.
Although he still has parts of his game to polish, Wiley’s progression from prospect to routine starter is nothing short of impressive, nor are his four goals and four assists this season.
Hopefully, Five Stripe fans can continue to witness his growth and relish when he shows opposing players the scoreboard.
Most Improved Player— Henry Higuita (@HAHiguita) November 13, 2023
Comeback Player of the Year: Miles Robinson
I was at the game where Miles Robinson suffered his Achilles tear with a friend. It was early in last year’s home game against Chicago. When he went down and began pounding the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf, you just knew it was bad.
Atlanta United fans are all too familiar with Josef Martinez’s drop in form after returning from his lengthy ACL recovery and probably expected a similar decline from Robinson.
But despite missing most of last season and the 2022 World Cup, Robinson bounced back in inspirational fashion. He featured in 32 games this season and had several important defensive interventions throughout the year. He won 73.4% of his 49 aerial duels this year, the seventh-highest aerial duel win rate in MLS this season.
Although he wasn’t quite the player he was before his injury, he still deserves all the credit for returning as a key player and fighting for the badge until the end.
Comeback Player of the Year— Henry Higuita (@HAHiguita) November 13, 2023
Most Important Winter Signing: Giorgos Giakoumakis
Yeah, I think this one was fairly obvious. The Greek striker said that people would learn to say his name with the goals, and now the Benz booms it out whenever he finds the net. His production of 17 goals in 1792 minutes was one of the main reasons he was named the 2023 MLS Newcomer of the Year.
His goalscoring wasn’t the only impact he had. He would often run back deep into the team’s own half to chip in defensively.
Though he fell short of adding a third Golden Boot to his trophy cabinet due to injuries and visa issues causing him to miss time, next season promises another chance for Atlanta’s Tank to go on a goal-scoring frenzy.
Most Important Winter Signing— Henry Higuita (@HAHiguita) November 13, 2023
Most Important Summer Signing: Tristan Muyumba
When rumors of Tristan Muyumba’s signing started popping up, many people (myself included) were initially skeptical of the true impact that a player coming out of the French second division could make. Turns out, he could make quite the impact.
What the Frenchman lacked in height he made up for with his quick pace, strong tackles and terrific passing. He became the progressive center midfielder that Atlanta United desperately needed for so long.
Though all of the summer signings played their part in the Five Stripes’ boost toward the end of the season, Muyumba’s presence in midfield meant that Atlanta was no longer so hopelessly outmatched by its opponents’ midfield. He fit well into the team’s style of playing out from the back by taking on opponents and maneuvering through intense pressure to push the play upfield.
If Atlanta can complement Muyumba with a defensive midfielder that can play well with him and help him cover more space in the middle and defensive thirds, the team would significantly improve its odds of contending for silverware next season.
Most Important Summer Signing— Henry Higuita (@HAHiguita) November 13, 2023
Goal of the Year: Thiago Almada vs. Portland Timbers
This was Atlanta’s nominee for MLS Goal of the Year, so I’m not very surprised to see that it took this vote.
I remember being in the press box for this goal. Tyler Pilgrim was next to me and we were wondering whether he would actually go for it or just try to cross the ball. When Almada actually hit the ball, I saw it travel in slow-motion as it took this impressive curve outward, up, down and back in to smash into the top corner.
As media, we technically aren’t supposed to make a lot of noise in the press box, but the goal was so magnificent that it was hard for some of us to keep quiet (like Tyler and I).
I can’t count how many times I’ve seen it on replay. In fact, let me go watch it again...