Atlanta United is back on the map
There have been some trying times for Atlanta United and its supporters since it’s last vestiges of top-tier quality flamed out after the 2019 season. We all know what happened in the intervening years — years that have been a roller coaster with far more downs than ups. We got more than our fair share of false dawns in those years through the likes of glitzy high-priced signings that showed some initial promise only to flame out in due time.
Atlanta United is back. The litmus test for this is very simple: You, I, and everyone else is excited to watch this team play its next game. As it so happens, Atlanta faces the runaway Supporters Shield leaders in FC Cincinnati on Wednesday. In such a case previously, we might brace ourselves in preparation of the team looking listless against such a quality opponent. But now, we all relish the opportunity to see how well the Five Stripes can stack up against such an opponent now that the new signings of Tristan Muyumba, Xande Silva and Saba Lobjanidze are bedding into the team.
It’s fun days again, not only because of what the team might be able to accomplish this season and beyond, but even moreso because we know the team on the field will excite us with the quality of play they put on display.
Carlos Bocanegra and the front office deserve their flowers
Bocanegra cut a confident figure on an uncomfortable day in early July when he stood in front of reporters at the team’s training ground after loaning then-starting midfielder Franco Ibarra, saying “judge us at the end of the window.” During a moment of upheaval in the squad, Bocanegra was calm and clearly trusted the process that his team was following to secure players that would improve the team.
He was right. In fact, he could not have been more right. Now that the dust has settled, let’s look at how the team has improved:
- Portuguese winger Xande Silva has shown to be a revelation, and looks like a vastly superior player than Luiz Araujo, the former designated player who was signed by Atlanta for a reported eight-figure transfer fee. That much already seemed apparent after Silva’s debut performance against Seattle, but his home debut that included a sensational volleyed goal Saturday night sealed the deal.
- Not much more needs to be said about Tristan Muyumba that wasn’t readily apparent after the team’s win in Seattle. He is the midfielder this team has been in long need of since Darlington Nagbe’s departure after 2019. A silky smooth central midfielder with range to interact with players all across the field.
- We’ve only seen a brief cameo from Saba Lobjanidze, but just seeing the attacking mentality and willingness to pass and move and combine in small technical ways shows huge potential. If he’s as good as we’re all hoping and expecting, it could really transform Atlanta’s attack.
- At left back, Caleb Wiley is an upgrade both offensively and defensively over what we saw from Andrew Gutman this season. Perhaps you could say that Gutman’s play last year was more on par with what we’re seeing from Wiley now, but it’s obviously ideal for Wiley to be playing in his natural position week in, week out. His athleticism and strength means he will never be outmatched in that area against any winger in this league, and he can continue to learn the nuances of the position over time.
And with these improvements, we are seeing an increased level of play from the other players who continue to hold their position in the squad. The last two games have shown us the best version of Miles Robinson, Luis Abram and Brooks Lennon we’ve seen this year. Brad Guzan looks much more comfortable not having his defensive line pinned so close to his box where he can read the game and anticipate play, and Matheus Rossetto can now focus on executing what he does well — simple connecting passes.
The new additions aren’t just adding quality to the team in-and-of themselves, but the whole team is elevated because of it.
Thiago Almada is blasting off like a rocket ship
Maybe no player has been more positively impacted by the new signings than Almada. Now, Atlanta has threats stretching across the field that must be accounted for, so no longer will Almada be boxed in around the field as the singular point of focus for opposing teams. Saturday, we saw perfect evidence of how these new signings will aloow us to see the best of Almada. Whether it’s Xande Silva turning his raking passes into goals on the scoresheet, combining tidily with Saba with both players sprinting into the box, or Tristan Muyumba cleverly manipulating the opponents shape to connect with Almada in larger spaces in which he can work, it’s all going to help.
Almada was credited with two assists and a goal Saturday that leaves him atop MLS in total goal contributions with 22, and he’s unlucky it wasn’t more. Barring unforeseen circumstances, we will see Almada’s name surface exponentially more in transfer links over the coming months, and he will become MLS’s most expensive outgoing player whenever a move happens.