When Atlanta United plays the Seattle Sounders on Sunday at Lumen Field, 22 days will have elapsed since their last competitive match.
A first foray into Leagues Cup waters saw Atlanta fall 4-0 to Lionel Messi and Inter Miami on July 25 before falling at home four days later in penalties to Cruz Azul after playing to a 1-1 draw. The long layoff hasn’t done any favors — Atlanta hosted St. Louis CITY SC in a friendly over the weekend to shake the rust off — but is set to come to an end in less than a week as the Five Stripes play out the final 10 matches of the MLS regular season.
With that in mind, here’s some questions, and some thoughts, as Atlanta United begins its playoff push in earnest:
How will the new signings fare?
Tristan Muyumba gave a strong account of himself against Cruz Azul, so that’s opened up (early) discussion around whether he’s been what Atlanta’s midfield has been looking for.
But we’ve yet to see three other players: Saba Lobjanidze, Jamal Thiaré, and Xande Silva. Silva, who has acquired his visa, had two assists in the scrimmage against St. Louis and should be available for selection against Seattle. The process is pending for Thiaré and Lobjanidze.
Wing play will be one of the major talking points, and how Lobjanidze and Silva fit into the puzzle will be critical for Atlanta’s prospects down the stretch. Silva, for his part, is essentially on a “prove it” contract, with the former Portuguese youth international on loan from FCO Dijon through the end of the season and Atlanta holding a purchase option.
As for Thiaré...
Is Jamal Thiaré the backup striker Atlanta United has been looking for?
Ideally, you won’t need Thiaré super often because this long layoff may have been what Giakoumakis has needed. Although he’s on 10 goals through 17 matches, he’s been hampered by a hamstring injury.
But Thiaré represents a promising addition to Atlanta’s forward ranks. It’s essentially a replacement for Miguel Berry as his time with the club has been nothing short of disappointing. Hopefully, the Frenchman is closer to Tito Villalba than he is Cubo Torres.
All eyes on Thiago Almada
Atlanta United’s dynamic midfielder is almost assuredly gone after the season is up. As of now, the highest transfer amount received for an MLS player is the $26 million Miguel Almiron fetched at the end of the 2018 season.
By all accounts, the question isn’t if Almada will pass that mark. It’s probably a question of how much he exceeds it. But with 10 matches to go (plus playoffs...hopefully), he has a chance to continue to add to what’s already a high transfer fee. Can he capture the form Atlanta enjoyed earlier in the season and help guide his team to a deep playoff run? (Note: Almería is probably an unlikely destination, by the way)
Which version of Brad Guzan will we see down the stretch?
Take a look at the 2018 roster for Atlanta United, and just one player remains today: Brad Guzan. For as much as what players like Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron have meant to the club, Guzan’s value has been immeasurable.
But the main talking points concern his age (39 in September), his fitness (two recent knee issues), and his contract ($612,500 this year with a pair of option years for 2024 and 2025), which puts him seventh among MLS keepers. Tenacity and sheer will to recover from his latest injury weeks ahead of schedule aside, whether he’s performing as someone that’s making less than just six others at his position is probably up for debate.
If this is it, let’s hope he goes out with a bang. If nothing else, he takes pride in his work and his standing in the locker room, and he’ll be the first to want to prove doubters wrong as the season comes to a close.
What about the defense?
Goodness, let’s hope the team left the silly defensive mistakes and mental lapses in the rearview mirror. If this team can put together a consistent effort offensively, it will be a shame if we see more points go down the drain due to late goals. This team’s probably a top-three team in the East if it had closed results out earlier in the year.