How did the 2017 season go?
Setting aside the obvious disappointment of Atlanta United’s first round playoff exit, the inaugural season was an unequivocal success. From on-field results, becoming only the fourth expansion team ever to make the playoffs to selling out game after game and setting numerous attendances records. Atlanta United, as a whole, was a smashing success in 2017.
What we learned
Arthur Blank’s and Darren Eales’ plans are working quicker than anyone expected. The club is committed to being a top club in Major League Soccer and are already knocking at the door.
Game that best summarized the season
Atlanta United 3-3 Orlando City, September 16
The third match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium was the first time the club opened it to full capacity. The historic crowd was rocking and was treated to a fascinating back and forth match that ended 3-3. Josef Martinez notched a hat trick with each goal ruining an Orlando lead. It wasn’t a victory, but this match epitomized the exciting style of Atlanta United but exposed some holes as well.
What went right
All three of the club’s Designated Player signings were fantastic successes. Usually clubs have some missteps when spending money on key players, but Atlanta hit home runs with Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Tito Villalba. All three with vitally important to the team’s success.
What went wrong
The team’s biggest problem ended up being their depth, which is no surprise for an expansion team. They were over-reliant on their star players and had very few answers beyond their first-choice lineup. When injuries and fatigue hit, Tata Martino was forced to ride his best players for as long as they could physically sustain.
Unlike most sports, in MLS you don’t expect much from SuperDraft picks. Proof in that can be seen from Atlanta United’s No. 2 overall pick Miles Robinson, who spent the season developing in the USL. However, the club’s No. 8 overall pick Julian Gressel unexpectedly transformed into a key player for Martino. His versatility and quality was extremely important throughout the season and should culminate in him winning the Rookie of the Year award.
Unexpectedly awesome performance
Anton Walkes in nearly every game he played in the second half of the season. From Game 1 to now, he was the most improved player of the year. His loan to Atlanta United appeared to be a waste at the beginning of the season as he rarely even made the bench. Fast forward to June and beyond and he became the team’s starting right back and was consistently solid.
Player who fell short of expectations
Kenwyne Jones was one of the first signings by the club and a proven goal scorer at every stop in his career. Unfortunately, the type of striker he is wasn’t compatible with the style of play Tata Martino utilizes. He scored a couple of goals, but was otherwise ineffective or injured through most of the season.
What needs to change for 2018
Aside from gaining more chemistry as a squad, the team needs to address the depth of the team. When Josef Martinez or Miguel Almiron aren’t able to play there needs to be a capable back-up or two to fill in. There also needs to be better late-game options off the bench when the team either needs a goal or needs to hold a lead.
Coach grade: A-
Tata Martino’s style was exciting and brought a breath of fresh air to the league. His substitution patterns and emergency lineup decisions left a little to be desired, but that can be attributed to a first-year roster that began being assembled before he even arrived
Overall team grade: A
It wasn’t a perfect team, but it 100% delivered on every promise made by the ownership and technical staff. There are some holes that need to be filled, but the team is set up for long term success after just its first year in the league.