Feb 25, 2022 - Sports

Atlanta United returns to reclaim a spot at the top

He's baaaaack (Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Josef Martinez. He's baaaaack. Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Sunday, Atlanta United kicks off — literally! — its season with more than 67,000 of the team’s very best friends against Sporting Kansas City.

Why it matters: The Five Stripes’ 2021 season was a mixed bag: after a rough start, the team fired coach Gabriel Heinze, and patron saint of Atlanta soccer Josef Martinez was still recuperating from a 2020 ACL injury.

  • Then came a mid-season turnaround under new coach Gonzalo Pineda that propelled the team from the low-end of the standings to a playoff position in just a few months .

We spoke with team president Darren Eales about what to expect this season.

What to watch: This will be the first full season for Pineda, who's assembled a frontline of playmakers and goalscorers — like Thiago Almada, whose $16 million transfer this summer set an MLS record — that Eales says will match anyone in the league.

  • Behind them you’ve got the core squad, including goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender Miles Robinson.

Fan experience: Last weekend’s event at Piedmont Park, where 2,000 season-ticket holders celebrated the team’s new secondary kit, was a taste of bringing fans a little closer back to the Atlanta United experience.

  • The team wants to nurture the player-fan connection that’s made Atlanta United a success story. Fans will once again be able to high five the players on the Golden Spike arrival, Eales says, and the front office is in talks with additional supporter groups.

“I don’t wanna jinx it, but we feel like this season could be going back to the 2017, 2018, 2019 seasons, and how it was in those early years in terms of on the pitch — but even more importantly, off the pitch,” Eales says.


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