It wasn’t Atlanta United’s final preseason tuneup of 2023 (that comes next weekend behind closed doors in St. Louis), but Wednesday night in Mercedes-Benz Stadium was a small taste of what the matchday experience will be like for this edition of Gonzalo Pineda’s squad. Let’s dig into what we saw.
- The stars — in particular Luiz Araujo and Thiago Almada — looked as good as you’d hope for at this stage and hopefully primed to get off the ground running when the season opens here at the Benz on February 25. Luiz’s goal, Atlanta’s second of the game, was a trademark slalom run capped off by a cheeky near-post finish — almost as if to toy with Toluca’s goalkeeper. But even more encouraging than the goal was the way he moved with and without the ball. With the ball, he showed the tekkers — not just for the sake of it but to create space to keep attacks flowing. Off the ball, he was getting in the box and looking to get in behind Toluca’s back line. Almada was exactly as you’d expect, and nearly had goals and assists himself.
- Midfield was a different story, and I’m afraid it’s going to continue being a story. A bad story. Because Franco Ibarra and Mattheus Rossetto were very much NOT locking that shit down. They were doing whatever the opposite of “locking it down” is. Both gave the ball away in the middle of the park, creating chaos and uncertainty for the awkward center back tandem (Noah Cobb and Juanjo Purata) behind them. and there was a lack of mobility in the pairing that allowed Toluca to pass circles around the middle of the park at times. On the ball, they tended to advance the ball forward too slowly — typically Rossetto just waiting a tick too long to send a pass that otherwise might have created real problems for the visitors. It will be interesting to see how Pineda handles this part of the team early in the season if these are the two top players at the position available to him.
- Noah Cobb had a rough night, with Toluca forwards finding themselves running in behind him toward GK Quentin Westberg several times. Cobb was also caught flat footed on a cross that lead to Toluca’s first goal, allowing his mark to score. It’s not the end of the world or anything, and Cobb certainly wasn’t helped by the aforementioned midfielders in front of him. Hopefully a good experience for the youngster to learn from — his number will certainly be called from time to time this year.
- The kits are good — and I didn’t get paid to say that! In all seriousness, I’m not a fashion guy AT ALL, so all the shirts generally seem fine to me, as does this one. What I like about this kit is the red shirt, black shorts, red socks look. It’s a good look.
- In case any of y’all care about this, the press box had the sealed window panes removed and the new open air feel is so so much better. Can really feel the atmosphere, even for what was a smaller crowd for just a friendly.
- Great to see Luke Brennan score in the second half, and the applause he got for the goal. He was obviously ecstatic and I can’t imagine how it must’ve felt for him to see the flames shoot after the ball hit the net. Just a cool moment for a young kid looking to make it in the game.
- Lastly, I wanted to say how energizing it was to be back in the building for what is the unofficial start to the 2023 season. The team has been through a lot this offseason, and hell, I don’t even know if this team is going to be any good this year either. But driving in and seeing the fans and the feeling of the game in the air again is very much welcomed. Let’s not ever take that feeling for granted.