The 2023 MLS season kicks off this Saturday and Atlanta United will open the campaign by hosting San Jose Earthquakes. A new year brings a new season with new players and a chance to wipe the slate clean from the disaster that was the 2022 season... shudders.
Since we are on the cusp of seeing the team back in competitive action, we thought it would be interesting to see where you, the 17s, are placing the bar ahead of this season. About a week-and-a-half ago, we sent out a short survey on Twitter asking y’all about your expectations for the club this year across each of the tournaments they’ll be competing in. Here, I’ll break down the results along with some interesting trends I noticed.
First and foremost, I wanted to say thank you to all 261 of you who took the time to answer the survey. Your data was very insightful and appreciated. Without further ado, let’s jump into the results.
MLS Supporters’ Shield
I’m going to begin each section by just showing you the raw data in the form of a pie chart and then I’ll go in-depth. Here’s the data for the Supporters’ Shield race:
A lot to take in? Yeah. Let’s look at it bit by bit.
The data here is all over the place, but let’s start by highlighting the four most-picked ranks:
10th - 19.5%
8th - 14.6%
4th - 9.6%
6th - 8%
In just those four choices, we have over 50% of the data. If we include the data for the ranks that fill in those gaps, it brings it up to 66.2% of the data. From that, we can conclude that most of the respondents expect Atlanta United to finish anywhere between fourth and 10th in the Supporters’ Shield race. Let’s narrow that down to just one rank using the average of all the data: eighth place.
So how does that compare to how the team did last year? Atlanta United placed 23rd in the Supporters’ Shield last year. Using the data above, we can see that a large portion of respondents expects to see a significant improvement from last season. In fact, only one respondent out of the 261 holds the expectation that this team will do worse (granted, it’s hard to do much worse than 23rd in a competition of 29 teams, but I digress).
Something else that I thought was interesting was the number of people that expect Atlanta United to finish top four:
1st - 3.8%
2nd - 2.7%
3rd - 6.5%
4th - 9.6%
Put those together and you get 22.6% (or a little under a quarter) of the total data. That’s a good amount of people with the expectation that this team ends the season at or near the summit.
MLS Eastern Conference
Fortunately, the pie chart for this data looks much cleaner than the last one:
It’s also much clearer where the majority lies. A whopping 37.5% of respondents think that a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference would be satisfactory. To really no one’s surprise, an overwhelming majority of you, 96.5% to be exact, are setting the bar at a playoff spot. That’s a totally fair expectation to have for a team and really should be the minimum goal for any club.
Of that 96.5% of respondents who are expecting the team to make the playoffs, 59.7% believe the team should earn a home playoff game (4th place or better) and 4.2% won’t be satisfied unless Atlanta United takes the top spot in the East.
Audi MLS Cup Playoffs
The answer to this one is probably hugely dependent on the answer to the previous question about the Eastern Conference expectations, but the data still shows some interesting trends.
First, we can see that 62.8% of the data is represented by the people who place the bar at reaching the conference quarter-final or semi-final. However, if we take into account all the data for this question, it places the average at the conference semi-final.
Now, time for some of the patterns I noticed in this data. Of the 95 respondents who expect the team to make the playoffs, but NOT host a playoff game (places five, six and seven from the last question), an overwhelming 63.2% percent consider success achieved at the conference quarter-final stage. However, 29.5% of the 95 think the minimum for success should be reaching the conference semi-final.
Now, if we take the 151 respondents who set the bar at a home playoff game (places one, two, three and four), approximately 40% think the team should reach the conference semi-final stage while about 30% expect the team to make the conference final.
What does this mean? Basically, it’s the logical conclusion that the better the team performs during the season and the more home games the team can play in the playoffs, the further fans will expect them to go.
Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup
One of the main takeaways from this data is that 92.7% believe the expectation for the club in this competition is to at least do better than last year (Atlanta was eliminated in the round of 32). Moreover, 40.2% of respondents are expecting a top-four finish in the contest.
The sample mean gives us a center for the data that is approximately at the quarter-final stage. Basically, the average of all the data suggests that the expectation for the team should be reaching the Open Cup quarter-finals.
This one is going to be tougher to put into context considering this year is the tournament's debut, but I’ll do my best.
Fortunately, the timing of this survey allowed people to know the other three clubs in Atlanta United’s group before answering. Whether that influenced people’s responses, I can’t be sure. Either way, we can clearly see that an overwhelming majority of respondents think the team should at least get past the group stage.
The calculated average places the overall expectation for Atlanta United to reach the quarter-final stage.
Now, the neat thing about Leagues Cup is that it presents not one, not two, but THREE opportunities to qualify for Concacaf Champions League. These go to the top three teams in the tournament. From this survey, 14.1% of respondents answered that the expectation should be earning one of those spots.
Of course, there’s no way to know how seriously teams are going to take this tournament, but considering the stakes and the fact that both MLS and Liga MX will take a break for it, I think it’s safe to say that most teams will be pretty invested in it.
BONUS ROUND: Best Comments
These are some of my favorite comments from the ones that you guys left. Please enjoy this break from the mind-bending statistics you’ve endured so far:
“Trust Garth’s process - we shouldn’t trade short term for longterm.”
“Just show me some good play and clear progression.”
“Key for me is improvement over the course of the season, and a sense that player moves will build a more complete team. Especially need to improve team defense over last season.”
“Simply get results from matches against low standing teams. Don’t give away points in the last 10 minutes of matches.”
“Not above average injury rate”
Conclusions and final thoughts
Given both the poor campaign last season and the roster-tidying that the team underwent this winter, the onus is certainly on the team to do better. The fans are right to want more out of the team they passionately support.
I think the average expectations are reasonable for the squad the club has on paper going into Opening Day. We’ll have to wait and see how the team looks on the field. I’m excited for this season and I hope you guys are too.
What do you think about the results of this survey? Let us know in the comments below!