Atlanta United’s 2023 season opener is in the books. It was 90 minutes of sluggish, sloppy soccer from the Five Stripes before Thiago Almada decided to take things into his own hands with not one but two stoppage-time screamers to turn a 1-0 loss into a 2-1 win against the San Jose Earthquakes. A win is a win, though, and Atlanta has the points it needed from Week 1, albeit not the performance. This weekend’s visit from Toronto FC offers Atlanta a chance to match a result with a complete showing.
Toronto and Atlanta mirror each other in several ways. Both clubs are some of the highest spenders and biggest underperformers in MLS. In TFC’s case, it brought in the flashy Italian duo of Lorenzo Insigne (who managed a slightly underwhelming 6 goals in 11 games in 2022) and Federico Bernardeschi (a more successful haul of 8 goals) last summer, only to miss the playoffs by a large margin in Bob Bradley’s debut campaign after forgetting to construct anything resembling a functioning defense. The backline has been the focus of the 2023 offseason, with free agents Sean Johnson (GK) and Matt Hedges (CB), Sigurd Rosted (CB), and Raoul Petretta (LB) all newly minted TFC players. Such major change obviously takes time to set in, but the first returns on Toronto’s upgraded defense were not exactly all that inspiring. The Reds lost 3-2 away to DC United in its season opener, blowing a 2-1 lead that lasted until the 89th minute. The midfield looked especially shaky, as Michael Bradley shows his age and Mark Anthony-Kaye remains far removed from his peak form since joining Toronto last season. To add insult to injury (although in this case, it would be the opposite), Insigne departed injured after just 36 minutes vs DC, making Toronto’s worst fears about its lack of squad depth - its bench consists almost entirely of youth - and strategy other than “pass to the Italians” come true.
Atlanta remains without Santiago Sosa, Ozzie Alonso, Machop Chol, and Tyler Wolff, but Luis Abram may be in line for a start. Giorgos Giakoumakis is still dealing with visa issues as of writing. Along with the importance of building some momentum to start the season, unlike last season’s 3-0 loss to Colorado that swiped the good work from the season-opening win off the board, Toronto is theoretically a direct competitor for playoff placing, so the points won and lost Saturday night could have ramifications further down the line as well.
Atlanta has a 4W-4D-5L disadvantage in the all-time series against Toronto, including one win each last season.
- 2-1 (A), 7/25/22
- 4-2 (H), 9/10/22
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Atlanta United 3-1 Toronto FC
After acing the 2-1 win over San Jose, I considered putting an end to these occasionally cursed predictions while I was ahead. A mix of reckless optimism and naivety means we aren’t going anywhere just yet, so I’ll go with a 3-1 Atlanta win in week 2. Goals will come from Adama Diomande for Toronto and Almada, Luiz Araujo, and Miguel Berry for the good guys.