After record-setting attendance, a stadium debut, playoffs and winning MLS’ Newcomer of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Goal of the Year awards, how can Atlanta United FC beat its expansion season?
Head coach: Gerardo “Tata” Martino
2017 regular season: 15-9-10, 55 points; No. 4 East
Postseason: Lost to Columbus in first round of playoffs.
Atlanta proved it doesn’t take experience in the league to win. The 2017 expansion side burst onto the scene, breaking attendance records – the team reported 70,425 tickets sold to a match against southeastern rival Orlando City, breaking the league’s single-game record of 69,255 set in 1996 – and became the first team since 2009 Seattle to make the playoffs in its first year.
The Benz: Atlanta United will play its first full season in Mercedez-Benz Stadium this year. The futuristic fortress (also home to the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons), which opened in September, also will host the 2018 MLS All-Star game.
First step playoffs, next step championships. Back lines beware because Atlanta United has an attack capable of getting there. The second-highest scoring team in the league last year (70 goals) did it despite leading scorer Josef Martinez (19 goals) missing 10 consecutive games due to injury. He’s healthy now, returning along with star midfielder and 2017 MLS Newcomer of the Year Miguel Almiron and other contributors (see: Hector Villaba, Julian Gressel). There’s more: Atlanta nabbed U.S. national team midfielder Darlington Nagbe for a cool $1.05 million of allocation money and could be looking for additional firepower.
Defender Leandro González Pirez summed up the club’s feelings last month saying, “Next year I want to win the league.”
Season opener: March 3 @ Houston Dynamo, 3:30 p.m.
Signings – D George Bello (homegrown); F Lagos Kunga (homegrown); F Patrick Okonkwo (homegrown); GK Mitch Hildebrandt; D Franco Escobar; D Jose Hernandez.
Trades – Acquired M Darlington Nagbe and D Gbenga Arokoyo from Portland Timbers in exchange for $650,000 general allocation money in 2018, $100,000 GAM in 2019, $300,000 targeted allocation money and an international roster spot. Could also pay up to $600,000 in future TAM based on Nagbe’s performance.
Re-signed – M Jeff Larentowicz; D Greg Garza.
Contract option declined – GK Alex Tambakis; D Mark Bloom; D Zach Loyd; D Tyrone Mears; M Harrison Heath; F Kenwyne Jones; F Jeffrey Otoo; GK Kyle Reynish; D Bobby Boswell.
Contract expired – M Yamil Asad (loan); D Anton Walkes (loan).