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Atlanta United bold predictions for 2023: What I got right and (mostly) wrong

SOCCER: FEB 15 MLS - Atlanta United vs Toluca FC Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

OK, I’ll fall on the sword.

In my defense, sometimes predictions are tough. There’s a chance you can nail it with no problem. Other times, you can get things very, very wrong.

Let’s just say that my bold predictions for Atlanta United in 2023 ended up in the latter column. I will say, though, that there’s a reason they were called “bold” predictions and not “this will, beyond the shadow of a doubt, happen in 2023” predictions.

Without further ado...let’s look back at how I did.

Gonzalo Pineda will win the Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year Award

Atlanta United v FC Cincinnati Photo by Jeff Dean/Getty Images

I wrote this back in January:

“When you lose your starting goalkeeper, a CB that would have been in Qatar a few months back if healthy, and a veteran midfielder brought in to provide a steady hand of leadership to your locker room, you’re going to struggle a little bit.”

And this:

“[Pineda] will have ... MLS veteran Derrick Etienne on the roster, along with other possible additions. Brad Guzan and Miles Robinson — plus Ozzie Alonso — will need time to get their sea legs underneath them, but their presence on the team sheet should lift the team’s spirits.”

Well, Guzan and Robinson were back, but Robinson, while still good, didn’t quite show the form he showed pre-Achilles. Guzan’s performance between the sticks was decent at best and, well, flat out not great at worst. Ozzie Alonso’s knee never healed up and he rarely played. Derrick Etienne? Less said the better.

The new guys helped a lot! Giorgos Giakoumakis came close to winning a Golden Boot in Year 1 save for some minor injury concerns. Saba Lobjanidze, Xande Silva, and Tristan Muyumba had instant impact at the back end of the season. But that couldn’t rescue a defense with an alarming tendency to capitulate at key moments of games which, to be fair, doesn’t fall 100 percent at the feet of the manager.

Still — and in short — this prediction didn’t come to pass, no matter where the blame lies.

Luiz Araújo will win Landon Donovan MLS MVP

SOCCER: APR 23 MLS - Atlanta United FC vs Chicago Fire FC Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

From January:

“I’m predicting that [Luiz Araújo] finally puts everything together this season and emerges as the league’s MVP.”

Narrator: He never did.

Araújo’s tenure with Atlanta wasn’t a complete disaster: there were glimpses of the player that commanded a $12 million transfer figure when signing for the team from Lille in 2021. Therein lies the problem: they were just glimpses. More often than not, he left Atlanta fans in fits of frustration for reasons that has been discussed both here and elsewhere.

Eventually the front office decided enough was enough and sold the beleaguered winger to Flamengo, closing the door on an overall disappointing spell in MLS and adding another player to the list of failed “buy low, sell high” attempts (see: Pity Martinez, Ezequiel Barco).

Jackson Conway emerges as the backup option at striker we’ve all been waiting for

Atlanta United 2 v New England Revolution II Photo by Andrew Katsampes/ISI Photos/Getty Images

“Absent a loan move to a 2nd-division European side or something along those lines, I’m of the opinion that [Jackson] Conway will see the pitch on a somewhat routine basis in 2023 and...let’s give him perhaps 5-7 goals, while we’re at it.”

The long-standing Atlanta United tradition of lacking a quality backup striker continued into 2023, unfortunately. I really thought it would be Conway as he’d more than proven his worth at the USL Championship level and was too good to be left in MLS Next Pro.

And, well, it turned out to not be Conway. Atlanta signed Miguel Berry, sent Conway on loan to Phoenix in the USL Championship...a frustrating spell that ended just shy of 3 months later and with Conway ultimately being loaned to ATL UTD 2. Ultimately, the club declined to pick his option up for 2024, with the former Homegrown Player scoring just 2 goals with the 1st team.

As for that backup striker? Berry didn’t work out, either. Maybe Jamal Thiaré will?

Derrick Etienne will be top 10 in MLS in assists

SOCCER: JUL 12 MLS - New England Revolution vs Atlanta United FC Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“I’ll go on a limb and say that [Derrick Etienne] hits double digits in helpers and puts himself in the top 10 in that department in 2023.”

Um...well. This didn’t come close to happening.

I know I said “The less said the better” earlier when bringing Etienne up, and by no means is this a character assassination since he’s been nothing but pleasant in media settings, but Atlanta didn’t sign Etienne to a low-TAM level contract to contribute – checks notes – 2 assists across 21 matches.

Consider, too, that in Atlanta’s final 7 regular season matches, Etienne was an unused sub on 5 occasions. He played 7 minutes in Games 1 and 3 of the MLS Cup Playoffs and wasn’t on the team sheet for Game 2. Saba Lobjanidze, Xande Silva, and Tyler Wolff’s respective performances, and, frankly, Etienne’s lack thereof — have made the veteran expendable, and it’s fair to assume he’d be not long for a move elsewhere if not for a weighty contract through 2025.

Atlanta United make the Leagues Cup quarterfinals

SOCCER: JUL 25 Leagues Cup - Inter Miami CF vs Atlanta United Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

To be fair, the edition of Atlanta United that took the field for Leagues Cup was much, much different than the one that ended the season. Alas, it wasn’t a “fun summer diversion” for Atlanta as I predicted last year: it got played off the pitch by Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, and Inter Miami (this still feels surreal to type) before succumbing to Cruz Azul in penalties at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Maybe 2024 will be different, though.