Atlanta United were rusty and not without their faults, but they played with a clear identity and outclassed the hosts Birmingham en route to a 2-1 win on a rainy Saturday evening. Giorgos Giakoumakis and Nick Firmino scored within the first 25 minutes, and a stubborn and young defensive group made sure that those goals were enough. It being the first preseason game, Pineda heavily rotated the squad, with 3 different groups of 11 playing for 30 minutes each. The first two groups were mixed with first-team regulars and Atlanta United 2 players, while the last lineup was made of 2s and Academy prospects. Many of these young players were very impressive and helped shut down a very physical Legion team, so here are their and the first team’s player ratings for the match.
Group 1 (First 30 Minutes):
GK: Brad Guzan: 6
Solid performance from Brad. Moved the ball around well and wasn’t asked to pull off many saves.
LB: Ronald Hernandez: 7
Hernandez had a very good performance that suprised me. His defending was excellent as he continuously shut down Birmingham’s forwards inside the 18. He played the ball around well while on the left side of a back 3 in attack, but continues to tuck in a bit too much. He would be right up their attacker’s back and leave a good bit of space behind him. But overall, solid.
CB: Derrick Williams: 5
In his first appearance for Atlanta, you could tell Williams was rusty. Starting as the LCB, his ball movement was poor and tacking wasn’t timed well. However, when he switched with Gregersen to RCB, he was better.
CB: Stian Gregersen: 6
Gregersen, with only a few days of training under his belt, played to his strengths. He was quick, good in the air, and moved the ball well while putting in a good shift at both LCB and RCB. When asked about what he did well today and what qualities he could bring to better the first-team, Pineda stated that he loved his aggression and ability in the air, both in the attack through set pieces and on defense. Good debut performance for Stian.
RB: Aidan McFadden: 6
McFadden, now back from loan at Memphis 901, struggled in the attack with Nick Brennan but was solid defensively. Pineda had him playing other up the field at times, similar to Brooks Lennon, but more as an 8 in a box midfield. He stated at halftime that his role under Pineda is different than what he is used to, but he is exited to play nonetheless.
CDM: Javier Armas: 7
Armas, the 2nd round SuperDraft selection out of Oregon State, was extremely impressive. His positioning on defense and off-ball movement into space was superb, and so was his combination play with Tristan Muyumba. He was a little too aggressive at times, but overall, he played very well. Pineda mentioned after the match that he was very impressed by Armas, as he should.
CM: Tristan Muyumba: 6
Muyumba was a joy to watch as always, but he wasn’t at his best. His combination play with Silva was fantastic and almost led to a goal, but he was also very sloppy in possession. Notably, he was higher up the pitch than usual, singling Pineda may want him to play as a more natural 8 this year.
CAM: Nick Firmino: 8 (Player of the Game)
Firmino, usually an 8, played as the #10 and was excellent. The MLS NEXT Pro standout dropped into space often to pick up the ball, similar to Almada, and combined well from those areas. His goal, receiving the ball out wide, driving into space, then making the keeper go the wrong way as he slotted the ball in the bottom left corner capped a great night.
LW: Xande Silva: 6
Silva started off poor, losing the ball in 1v1s on multiple occasions, but he made up for it with his assist to Firmino that he created out of nothing. He skillfully turned and beat 2 defenders to then play Firmino into space for his goal, but not without being clipped and having an injury scare. His defensive effort was also much better than usual.
RW: Luke Brennan: 5
Brennan had what I like to call an post-COVID Emerson Hyndman performance: he was a ghost. He never created many chances, didn’t combine well with McFadden, and didn’t see the ball much. Let’s hope we see more from him in Athens.
ST: Giorgos Giakoumakis: 7
GG scored the opener, held the ball up well, and made clinical runs behind the defense. What more can you ask from him?
Group 2 (Middle 30 Minutes):
“Blue Cleats” Josh Cohen: 7
If you were not paying attention to X (formerly Twitter), you wouldn’t have noticed the battle between Tyler Pilgrim and Doug Roberson of the AJC on the color of Cohen’s cleats. Pilgrim and I said blue, Doug said green, and like most things involving Atlanta United, Doug was right. But no matter the color of his cleats, Cohen’s performance was inspiring. He made a very good save sliding hands-first to meet a Birmingham forward and had good overhead balls to Jamal Thiare. He couldn’t do anything to stop Birmingham’s goal off an Abram deflection, but it was still a great debut.
RB: Brooks Lennon: 7
Lennon brought so much energy onto the pitch from his first touch, whipped in dangerous crosses, and combined well with Saba Lobzhanidze. He’s such a fun player to watch.
CB: Noah Cobb: 6
Cobb is much, much taller than he was just last season, and he put in a solid performance today. He moved the ball around consistently well in tandem with Abram.
CB: Luis Abram: 6
Abram was solid as he always is. Good ball movement and he was unlucky to deflect the Birmingham attempt past Cohen.
LB: Daniel Russo: 6
Russo, the undrafted rookie signing out of Notre Dame, can whip in a very good cross but got beat too often defensively. Near the end of the first half, he got megged and it almost led to a Legion goal. Decent showing for the Irish grad.
CDM: Dax McCarty: 7
McCarty did almost everything you wanted him to. He sat deep, connected the play well, and was calm on the ball. He turned the ball over on the first goal in a lapse of judgement and needs to get back quicker defensively, but it was a very good start to his year.
CM: Jay Fortune: 6
Fortune was sprinting up and down the field connecting play, and there’s not much else to say about his solid, energetic performance.
CAM: Derrick Etienne: 5
Pineda said that with depth at the 10 lacking, he’d like to rotate playing Etienne and Tyler Wolff there, but also that it would take them time to adjust to a new role. Etienne played there tonight, and let’s just say it did not go well. Other than one otherworldly pass to Thiare in the 18 with the outside of his foot, his touch was poor, he could not keep or run with the ball, and he could not move the ball well. His contract continues to look bad.
LW: Tyler Wolff: 6
Wolff was mostly an afterthought in the attack, not getting the ball much, but when he did, he drove at players, allowing space for Russo to overlap him. He played very well defensively on the touchline.
RW: Saba Lobjanidze: 8
Saba was electric, combining well with Lennon and taking on defenders by dribbling inside. He was the lead playmaker of this group of players and looked just as fresh as he did last season. If anyone should be playing the 10, it shouldn’t be Wolff or Etienne. It should be Saba.
CF: Jamal Thiare: 7
Thiare is basically a new signing for Atlanta, and just like most of the other new signings, he put in a good performance. He was making a lot more runs behind than GG, held the ball up well, and constantly got himself into dangerous areas, almost scoring twice (a cross that he couldn’t connect to with his head and a quick turn and strike to the bottom left corner). Very good to see from the backup striker.
Group 3 (Last 30 Minutes):
GK: Quentin Westburg: 3
Westburg was absolutely terrible with the ball at his feet. He lost the ball twice to the Birmingham striker and both times should have been goals (one hit the post). Just a shocking performance that he’ll want to forget.
LB: Dominik Chong Qui: 7
Chong Qui is a very calm defender for a player of his age. He only stepped into tackles when he needed to and completely shut down his side of the pitch. Good performance from the young man.
CB: Efrain Morales: 8
Morales was absolutely incredible. He completely shut down the Birmingham striker and used his physicality to his advantage. He was the best defender for Atlanta today and we may see him breaking into the first team by the end of the year.
CB: Kaiden Moore: 6
Moore didn’t stand out much, but didn’t do anything wrong, either. He did what was needed of him, keeping a clean sheet for the 30 minutes, and that’s fine.
RB: Matt Edwards: 7
Edwards was very impressive in the attack and defensively. He has great footwork. Asides for being beat one time at the edge of the 18 pretty badly, he did well and hopefully can continue his good form in the preseason.
CM: Noble Okello: 5
Okello, one of the older players in the group at 23, took his space well but was sloppy when passing and racked up the fouls. Just not very good from the former New England Revolution II midfielder.
CM: Julian Bretous: 6
Bretous is scrappy and dove into tackles way too often, but he’s fun to watch and a decent defender. He slid in at the last second to save a goal after Edwards got beat out wide with about 5 minutes left in the game, securing all 3 points for Atlanta.
CAM: Cooper Sanchez: 5
The 15-year old (!!) played well defensively, but fouled his opponent way too often and didn’t offer anything of substance in the attack. But, for a 15-year old, it wasn’t a bad debut, and Pineda heaped praise his way in the postgame presser.
LW: Rocket Ritarita: 6
The winger with the best first name on the planet has good footwork and good combination play with the midfield and left back Chong Qui. Solid play from him.
RW: Owen Koutsos: 6
Koutsos is extremely good with his feet for being born in 2007 and has good speed. He absolutely flew by the Birmingham left back with barely any room to work with. However, he should have scored after being played a cross while unmarked. His touch off his chest was too heavy and went straight to the keeper.
ST: Ashton Gordon: 7
Gordon looks like a well-rounded striker. His movement is good, his footwork is superb, and he almost scored a header off a corner. He will hopefully develop into a great player for the first team in a couple of years.
That’s all the player ratings! How did you feel about Atlanta United’s performance? What players stood out to you? Let us know in the comments below.