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Atlanta United vs San Jose Earthquakes: Match Preview

Almost go time

SOCCER: FEB 15 MLS - Atlanta United vs Toluca FC Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Atlanta United’s seventh season is upon us. The Five Stripes kick off a new chapter 139 days since the curtains closed on a disastrous 2022, but spring is in the air in more ways than one in Atlanta. New signings on and off the field combined with the usual preseason blind hope optimism mean a hesitant excitement abounds. Gonzalo Pineda’s side will look to follow the trend and get 2023 started off on the right foot when the San Jose Earthquakes come to town in the season opener at the Benz.

Atlanta United FC v New York City FC Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

The Five Stripes have kept seven starters from the starting eleven that fell 2-1 to NYCFC on Matchday 34 back in October (9 from the season opener), but the additions that have arrived are clear upgrades on Atlanta’s weak points (well, at least most of them). Giorgos Giakoumakis has the profile of the striker that Atlanta has desperately lacked since 2019, Derrick Etienne is an actual left winger and not an out-of-position attacking midfielder, and Luis Abram will hopefully inject some quality into a shaky backline. The returns of Brad Guzan, Miles Robinson, and Ozzie Alonso further boost the defensive unit, though it’s an open question as to how the trio will recover from their respective season-ending injuries.

You may have noticed one spot on the field glaringly absent from the list of improvements: the midfield. Alonso’s return from injury fills the numbers after Emerson Hyndman’s departure, but doesn’t do much more, at least until we see how or if the 37-year-old can recover the level that made him look like the deal of the offseason through the first 4 games of 2022. Expensive underperformers like Matheus Rossetto and Franco Ibarra remain and are in line for major minutes this season. Our first look at that midfield pairing may be coming as soon as Saturday, as Santiago Sosa is still serving two games of a three-game suspension from last season. The Argentine might not be the only absentee either, as Caleb Wiley is in concussion protocol while both Giakoumakis and Etienne didn’t play a single preseason minute.

SOCCER: SEP 04 MLS - Vancouver Whitecaps at San Jose Earthquakes Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

San Jose is in the midst of a coaching change, with Luchi Gonzalez at the helm after a season split between interim Alex Covelo and Matias Almyeda. Almyeda, best known for his one-of-a-kind (for a reason) man-marking scheme, was sacked in April after four up-and-down years in California, capped off by a winless opening month and a half of the 2022 season. Covelo was able to stabilize the Earthquakes, but its season never recovered; San Jose ended the campaign 14th in the West. Since then former FC Dallas manager Luchi Gonzalez has taken charge, along with defensive midfielder Carlos Gruezo (also formerly of Dallas, albeit by way of Augsburg in the Bundesliga), Columbus center-back Jonathan Mensah, and goalkeeper Daniel. San Jose will hope those three can shore up the second-worst defense in MLS, while Gonzalez’s tactics can give the team an identity beyond haphazardly chasing opponents across the field. The attack is where San Jose should have the most success in 2023. Wingers Cade Cowell (3 goals, 3 assists in 2022) and Cristian Espinoza (7g, 9a) flank attacking-mid Jamiero Monteiro (4g, 6a), with the breakout man of 2022 Jeremy Ebobisse (17g, 2a) leading the line. It’s an attack that can cause anyone in the league problems, and Atlanta’s still in construction/recovery backline is no exception.

Previous Results

San Jose is the only team in MLS that Atlanta has a 100% winning record against (I’m setting myself up for embarrassment aren’t I). The most recent of the Five Stripes’ 3 wins was a feisty 3-1 victory in 2019 at the Benz, featuring two San Jose red cards and decided by a 90th-minute Emerson Hyndman winner.

Predicted Starting XIs

Atlanta’s Predicted XI (4-2-3-1)
San Jose’s Predicted XI (4-2-3-1)

Update: Chol missed training Thursday, so Tyler Wolff could swap in for him on the left flank

Prediction: Atlanta United 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes

It won’t be a spotless display of the beautiful game as both teams shake off the rust, but Atlanta will claim all three points nonetheless. A Cristian Espinoza strike will come sandwiched between goals come from Thiago Almada and Luiz Araujo.