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Only the beginning: Giorgos Giakoumakis proving worth to Atlanta United

Atlanta’s No. 9 has thus far backed up his words with goals, and can only get better from here

SOCCER: JUN 10 MLS - Atlanta United FC vs D.C. United Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Giorgos Giakoumakis was always going to be under the microscope the minute the former Celtic man’s signing was announced by Atlanta United. While seeing success at his previous two stops, the Greek international was acutely aware of the pressure he’d face following in the footsteps of Josef Martinez.

“I’m hungry for goals,” he said at an introductory press conference where he displayed an air of confidence (perhaps bordering on brashness to the cynic) that you’d expect from a center forward.

Thus far, he’s become the player that Atlanta had hoped he’d become.

With a goal during the Five Stripes’ 3-1 win over D.C. United on Saturday night, Giakoumakis now has 10 on the season, putting him into a tie with LAFC’s Denis Bouanga, FC Dallas’s Jesus Ferreira, and Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar for the Golden Boot lead.

What’s more impressive is the time it’s taken him to register his initial 10 goals in league play: per MLS, he reached the mark in a record 766 minutes. That’s despite a spell of minor injuries that limited his involvement earlier in the season.

Giakoumakis displayed his tenacity on Saturday to reach the 10-goal plateau: with Tyler Miller well off his line, he deftly robbed the D.C. keeper and scored into a wide-open goal from an acute angle.

“We knew that when we tried to play behind the back of the defense, then the goalkeeper would go out. Within the game, we scored because we were well prepared about this,” Giakoumakis said postgame. “The manager explained everything about the goalkeeper and how he would come out. Eventually that worked [and] we scored because he tried to go out and he missed the ball. It wasn’t luck [because] we were prepared.”

It was the opening goal for Atlanta, and despite seeing Taxi Fountas pull things level less than 15 minutes later, it scored twice in the 2nd half to seal just its 3rd victory in 10 tries.

Along with that tenacity and nose for goal, though, is the physical aspect of Giakoumakis’ game, one of the main bits of evidence that he’s simply cut from a different cloth than his Venezuelan predecessor.

He’s been whistled for 22 fouls; in comparison, Martinez committed no more than 24 fouls in a single season. He also picked up his 5th yellow of the season and will miss Atlanta’s match against NYCFC on June 21 (a game he was likely to miss anyway with Greece playing on the 19th); Martinez has been booked just 7 times in 149 MLS matches.

Giakoumakis’ main challenge, now (outside of remaining healthy), is not just maintaining his level of play through the rest of the season, but hitting a new level. Atlanta have 16 matches remaining on the other side of the international break and currently sit in 5th in the Eastern Conference standings, 2 points out of home-field advantage for the 1st round of the playoffs and 3 points out of home-field through at least the conference semifinals.

Part of his continued success — or lack thereof — rests on the service he receives on the wings, with his frustration toward Derrick Etienne on display at least once during the 1st half of the D.C. win. That’s not to mention continuing to build chemistry with Thiago Almada, who displayed a resurgent 2nd half after a poor spell of form.

But so far, returns have been positive for Atlanta’s no. 9. Atlanta fans will hope that it’s only up from here.