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Atlanta United 2019 season preview: New faces to defend MLS title

Atlanta United opens the 2019 MLS season against D.C. United. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

For Atlanta United FC, the mission — win trophies — remains the same, but the Five Stripes will have to do that in their third year without manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino and midfielder Miguel Almirón. After two years on the job, the Argentine tactician left Atlanta to be the boss of the Mexican national team. Almirón, a two-time MLS All-Star and Best XI selection, parlayed his success in the U.S. to a contract in the English Premier League with Newcastle United.

Replacing them are Dutch manager Frank de Boer and Argentine playmaker Pity Martinez, the 2018 South American Player of the Year. Also back for the 2018 MLS Cup champs are goalkeeper Brad Guzan, dynamic do-it-all midfielder Julian Gressel, captain Michael Parkhurst, promising youngsters Ezequiel Barco and George Bello, and — of course — Josef Martinez, the reigning league MVP and Golden Boot winner.

The early obstacle for the Five Stripes will be trying to replicate success while trying to mesh in new faces and unfamiliar personalities. Can they bring it all together to capture multiple trophies in 2019?

Atlanta United begins title defense at D.C. United

When: Sunday, March 3, 6 p.m. EST

Where: Audi Field, Washington, D.C.

Broadcast: TV — ESPN; RADIO — FM 92.9 The Game

Live stream: WatchESPN

The buzz: A rivalry is renewed as this game pits two Black-and-Red teams with tons of ambition against each other. On one side: Wayne Rooney, Luciano Acosta and Bill Hamid. On the other: Josef, Pity and Guzan. There’s also potential for a bit of a reunion; former Atlanta United defender Chris McCann was scooped up by D.C. United during the offseason. The question is, will the Five Stripes be full strength? Atlanta will have likely played its first-choice starting XI in a must-win Concacaf Champions League match less than four days before this MLS opener. De Boer may have to rely on reserves in this game versus a hungry D.C. United.

Other key matches

March 10 vs. FC Cincinnati: It’s the home opener and Mercedes-Benz Stadium will surely be packed. Expect a high-profile Atlanta celebrity to hammer in the Golden Spike to start the season off right for the Five Stripes. This game will also feature the return of Greg Garza, who will be wearing an opposing kit for the first time in Atlanta.

May 12 vs. Orlando City SC: Atlanta United has owned Orlando City since it became an MLS club, but there’s no debate, this is rivalry. They are the only two MLS clubs currently in the southeast and their fan bases — mostly — do not like each other. And Josef Martinez breaking the MLS single season scoring record in Orlando is a highlight that’s going to be shown for a long time.

Aug. 18 at Portland Timbers: It’s a rematch of the 2018 MLS Cup, except this time the game will be played on the Timbers’ turf. Can Portland extract a little bit of payback?

Check out the full 2019 schedule here.

Quotes & Notes

  • Atlanta technical director Carlos Bocanegra on Pity Martinez: “He’s got fantastic control and technique with the ball. I like that he can be goal-dangerous but he can also give the final pass. He can beat a player but he can also drag players out of space for his teammates as well. He has the quality to be a playmaker and play underneath the forwards, but he also has the quality to play out wide and cut inside. He’s a complete player.”

 

  • Dion Pereira, a transfer from Watford, on what he brings: “I’d say I bring creativity to the field. I might not score as many goals as a striker, but on the wing I can set up a lot of goals. I can drive past defenders pretty easily, that’s a big attribute, and I can pick passes from anywhere.”
  • Josef Martinez on his five-year extension with Atlanta: “Surely right now in Venezuela they’re saying negative things about me… They think I should be playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid. But for me, this is my Barcelona, my Real Madrid. It’s not about me being the star. This team has 11 stars on the field, plus the substitutes, plus everyone who works here for the club. That’s the important thing.”
  • Ahead of Atlanta United’s Concacaf Champions League game on Thursday, de Boer said midfielder Kevin Kratz and defender Franco Escobar are still sidelined with injuries. George Bello was listed as doubtful after picking up a small knock in practice.

Biggest offseason moves

  • Atlanta United signed the South American Player of the Year, Pity Martinez. Reports suggested the club paid a transfer fee in the ballpark of $14 million to Argentine side River Plate. He’ll be the new No. 10 for the Five Stripes.
  • Just before the winter transfer window closed, Atlanta United sold Miguel Almiron to EPL side Newcastle United for an MLS record fee of $27 million. The 25-year-old Paraguayan was instrumental to Atlanta’s success, tallying 22 goals and 30 assists over two season with the Five Stripes.
  • Aside from Almiron, the second biggest on-field loss for the Five Stripes was trading starting left back Greg Garza to FC Cincinnati for $450,000 in allocation money. Garza, who was called into the U.S. national team camp earlier this year, has battled injuries recently, but started every game for Atlanta in its playoff run.
  • Atlanta United also added defender Florentin Pogba, versatile winger Brek Shea, Watford academy product Dion Pereira and goalkeeper Brendan Moore. In the SuperDraft, Atlanta picked up midfielders Anderson Asiedu and Amir Bashti.
  • Other Atlanta United departures included defender Chris McCann, goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt, defender Sal Zizzo, midfielder Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu and 2018 SuperDraft pick Oliver Shannon.

Roster breakdown

Forwards – Jon Gallagher, 23; Lagos Kunga, 20; Pity Martinez, 25; Josef Martinez, 25; Patrick Okonkwo, 20; Dion Pereira, 19; Brandon Vazquez, 20; Hector Villalba, 24; Gordon Wild, 23; Romario Williams, 24

Midfielders – Ezequiel Barco, 19; Andrew Carleton, 18; Chris Goslin, 18; Julian Gressel, 25; Kevin Kratz, 32; Jeff Larentowicz, 35; Darlington Nagbe, 28; Eric Remedi, 23; Brek Shea, 29

Defenders – Mikey Ambrose, 25; George Bello, 17; Franco Escobar, 24; Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, 27; Jose Hernandez, 21; Michael Parkhurst, 35; Florentin Pogba, 28; Miles Robinson, 21

Goalkeepers – Brad Guzan, 34; Alec Kann, 28; Brendan Moore, 26

See full roster details here.

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