Year three of Atlanta United is just over a month and a half away as it kicks off its first ever spell in the Concacaf Champions League. On March 3, though, its quest to repeat as MLS Cup champions begins as it opens on the road at D.C. United. With a possible big-ticket signing, a new coach, and a target on its back, we’ll see how this campaign shakes out.
Let’s take a dive into the 34-game slate, which is more compressed than the past with the new playoff format in place beginning this year:
A lot of screentime
The regionally-televised matches will be handled by FOX Sports South/Southeast as usual, but Atlanta United will be getting a great bit of national TV slots throughout the year: 17 in all, up from 16 a year ago. The Five Stripes will be on ESPN 8 times, on FS1 and FOX broadcast 3 times each, twice on UniMas and once on Univision. It seems if you’re the defending champs, that’s bound to happen.
March 10: The home opener, the new boys, and Garza’s return
March 10 was always going to be a special match as not only was it set to be Atlanta’s home opener, but a celebration of the club’s 2018 MLS Cup win. It’s also only the second match for fledgling FC Cincinnati in their acension to MLS and will equal the return of Greg Garza, who was traded to Cincy in mid-December and should certainly get a warm reception from his former fans - while Atlanta will look to get Frank de Boer a first home win.
May: Fixture Congestion I
May is going to be a jam-packed month for the Five Stripes, the least of their worries being a nine-day stretch that sees them in Vancouver on the 15th, then flying across the continent to visit the Red Bulls (19th) only to have another long plane ride to Real Salt Lake days later (24th). I’m curious why the schedule makers didn’t flip-flop the Red Bulls/RSL matches to compress Atlanta’s travels, but it is what it is. That’s not to mention that May will feature seven matches in 24 days - maybe 8 in 27 if Atlanta make the Concacaf Champions League final as the second leg is set for May 2 - so depth, again, will be key.
May 12 and August 23: Florida’s men
FC Cincinnati’s entry into the league means a tweaked format for the schedule - and that equals just two matches against Orlando City SC in 2019. Sacha Kljestian, Dom Dwyer and co. make the trip to the Benz on Sunday, May 12 at 2 p.m. on FOX, while August 23’s edition of the derby in Orlando will kick off at 8 p.m. on ESPN. The rivalry’s been balanced heavily in Atlanta’s favor as it’s 4-0-2 against the Lions thus far.
Late June-early July: Fixture Congestion II, or Cup Craziness
Between June 26 and July 7, Atlanta United will have 4 matches in 12 days: at Toronto FC on June 26, home versus Montreal Impact three days later, at the Chicago Fire on July 3 and back at the Benz against the Red Bulls on July 7. Tough enough to be playing that many matches in a short time span. Tougher when you consider those matches are taking place inside the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the CONMEBOL Copa America windows (June 14/15-July 7), which means that it’s likely a good chunk of Atlanta’s roster (Brad Guzan, Darlington Nagbe, Josef Martinez, Romario Williams, Tito Villalba, et al) will be on international duty. Ouch.
July 7: A plum spot against the Supporters’ Shield holders
Like it did with the World Cup last year, FOX and MLS wanted to ensure that they were able to put a headlining match to lead out of the Women’s World Cup final. After Atlanta hosted Seattle in the post-final spot a year earlier, it will get it once more as the Red Bulls come to town. The club hasn’t announced it yet, but expect this to be one of the 6 that will see the Benz opened to full capacity.
August 18: The rematch
The Portland Timbers won’t get a full measure of revenge against Atlanta United if they’re able to topple the defending champs at the refurbushed Providence Park, but with over 25,000 fans on their side, this sets up to be a match where they can make things uncomfortable for the visitors. There should be a decent contingent making the trip from Atlanta to the Northwest, so if you’re looking for an away match to go to, this (along with the contest at the Seattle Sounders on July 14) could be one to consider.
September: Fixture Congestion III
Another bit of congestion occurs in September as Atlanta United will have 5 in 16 in coming out of the FIFA break: Columbus comes to town on Sunday, September 14, while a trip to FC Cincinnati for a Wednesday night matchup (September 18) is on tap just a few short days later. A trip back home to host San Jose (September 21) comes before back-to-back away games at NYCFC (September 25) and Montreal (September 29). If, and only if, Atlanta makes the U.S. Open Cup final, that might tighten things up a little more.