Almost one month after its Leagues Cup journey ended at the hands of Cruz Azul, Atlanta United is back to grace/haunt our television screens once more. Gonzalo Pineda’s side returns with a busy summer transfer window completed and ten games left to ensure it doesn’t miss the MLS Cup playoffs for a second straight year.
The good news is that Atlanta’s four new signings all look the part on paper and if all goes to plan, will be major upgrades in the starting XI. The bad news, though, is that these next 10 games account for one of the hardest run-ins in the league. The average ranking of nine of those teams is 5th while the remaining features a certain Lionel Messi. In other words, the road is about to get bumpy. That wouldn’t be as big a concern if not for the last week of Atlanta’s pre-Leagues Cup MLS season, in which the Five Stripes lost back-to-back against New England and Orlando. Eight-place Chicago Fire’s red-hot form means Atlanta only has 3 point lead on the last automatic playoff spot and a game out of hand. If the Five Stripes’ transfer-market bet doesn’t pay off, the remainder of 2023 could go downhill and out of the playoff picture entirely.
Seattle, on the other hand, sits 4th in the West with 36 points but has been far from meeting expectations so far this season. The Sounders’ CCL hangover that lasted the entirety of 2022 hasn’t dissipated like expected in 2023 and Seattle once more is struggling to pick up both the results and performances it would expect. It’s managed back-to-back wins just once in MLS since April and hasn’t fared much better in cup competitions either, where it was dumped out of the Open Cup in the Round of 32 and Leagues Cup in the group stage. Seattle’s defense has been its strong suit with only 23 conceded (the fewest in the West) but offensively it ranks only 7th and has scored multiple goals in one game just twice since April. Seattle’s expected goals paints a different picture, as it leads the West with 37xg, but it’s tallied just 29 on the pitch. Stalwart DPs Nicolas Lodeiro (1g, 3a) and Raul Ruidiaz (4g) have shown their age and struggled to stay fit, while wingers Jordan Morris (7 of his 9 goals came in the first month of the season) and Leo Chu have been too inconsistent to pick up the slack. There was no big (or small) splash in the transfer market to try and freshen things up, so Seattle will be hoping that it starts to catch up to its underlying numbers with the players that got it there in the first place.
The overall record between Atlanta and Seattle is perfectly level at 1W-3D-1L, including a 2-1 win decided by a late Andrew Gutman strike in last season’s fixture.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Seattle Sounders 1-1 Atlanta United
Atlanta won’t quite have full access to its newest pieves - VISA delays mean only Tristan Muyumba and Xande Silva will be available this weekend, while Jamal Thiare and Saba Lobjanidze will have to wait to make their debuts - but the Five Stripes will still manage to pick up a road result. Atlanta will open the scoring through Thiago Almada, and though Seattle will equalize, action will end all square in Washington.