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ATLUTD: Battle(s) of the New Kids


Robyn Saghini - Atlanta United FC/mlsfemale
Official Atlanta United Reporter

By Robyn Saghini // @robynsaghini

March 31: MNUvATL, Win 0-1; April 7: ATLvLAFC, Win 5-0

I’m playing catch up again, and we have lots to cover, so strap yourself in! Here we go…

Atlanta United traveled up to the frozen tundra of Minnesota a couple of weeks ago to try for a repeat of last year’s early season goal-fest. There was no snow this time, though, and Minnesota United has improved a bit since last March. They did get a little help from the referee, though, when Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was given a yellow card 45 seconds into the game and then another about 35 minutes later when he had a sloppy foul outside the sideline.

This mishap on LGP’s part caused the team to sit back and defend most of the game, and the only goal came on an own goal that was meant to be a clearance in front of MNUFC’s goal. There was very little going on offensively for ATL in this game, but it did show that we can manage to defend and keep our lead when we’re down a man, something that will surely come in handy at some point down the road…

LGP’s exit from this game meant that we were now down two defenders for the next game at home vs newbies LAFC, who has looked really good despite that one tiny loss to their cross-town rivals while ATLUTD was freezing their butts off. During the MNUFC game, Greg Garza left the game early when he re-injured his shoulder and Jeff Larentowicz (aka “Larry”) left the game with an ankle injury, plus Franco Escobar was still out on concussion protocol. This left the ATLUTD twitter-verse to freak out about who was going to play in front of Brad Guzan against LAFC.

Turns out, Tata had it all figured out – or maybe he just guessed – because the lineup vs LAFC was not what many of us were expecting. Tata kept the 3-5-2 formation, but the backline of Chris McCann, Michael Parkhurst, and Miles Robinson was a surprise.

Atlanta’s first pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, and the second overall pick, Miles Robinson, was finally getting his first MLS start (he did not play for the first team in 2017). We saw him play a little with the Charleston Battery last year and in the first ATLUTD2 game, but weren’t sure what to expect from him in this game. And then he goes and does this and we all forgot why we were doubting him:

Speaking of 2017 rookies, Julian Gressel is having himself a year. Last year’s rookie of the year has been nothing short of amazing this year. Gresselmania racked up a goal and an assist against LAFC. That cross to Josef Martinez was a thing of beauty.

That goal was Josef’s 25th in 24 games – an MLS record. Josef currently has five goals on the season and is tied for the lead in the Golden Boot race. If he stays healthy this year, y’all better watch out!

There was some questionable refereeing in this game and two plays were reviewed with VAR, both to Atlanta’s advantage. First was the red card to McCann 38 seconds into the game that was reversed to a yellow (phew!). The second video review came late in the second half when Georgia native Walker Zimmerman fouled Miguel Almiron in the box. It was initially called a corner kick, but after VAR, a PK was given to Atlanta, making it 3-0 in favor of ATLUTD.

A few minutes later, one of LAFC’s rookies made two rookie mistakes back to back. A foul on Miggy got Joao Moutinho his first yellow and gave Miggy a free kick outside the LAFC box. On that free kick, Moutinho jumped with his arms in front of his head and the ball hit his arm for a handball and his second yellow.

The one call that should have been reviewed but wasn’t was Laurent Ciman‘s elbow to Josef’s head/face late in the first half. Referee Ted Unkel did not even call a foul on Ciman and the crowd reminded him of that call for the rest of the game.

Atlanta’s fifth goal came in the last minute of added time and was Romario Williams‘ first MLS goal – and it was a peach! (Sorry, I had to reference the King Peach kits at some point.)

Atlanta is at home again this weekend, hosting NYCFC for the teams’ first meeting of the year. NYCFC and Atlanta are currently first and second in the Eastern Conference, respectively, so Sunday is going to be a big test for both teams.

In other news:

  • ATLUTD2 have drawn both of last 2 games; their record is now 1-0-2. They have a bye this weekend but are back at home again on April 21 hosting Louisville City FC.
  • Lagos Kunga won USL goal of the week AND USL goal of the month with his first professional goal.
  • ATLUTD injury report – because there’s a lot going on this week:
    • Barco started training again this week!! Hoping to see him at least as a sub on Sunday, but no word on his game fitness yet.
    • Zero word on when Franco Escobar will return from concussion protocol. He has not trained with the team since the Vancouver Whitecaps game.
    • Tito Villalba appeared to ask to be subbed out of the LAFC game earlier than expected on Sunday. Some people have said he was indicating he may have injured his hamstring. He has not been training with the team so far this week (insert Robyn freaking out dot gif here).
    • Josef Martinez left the training field with an air cast on his left arm Wednesday. The team did not say if there was an injury or what it was, but he returned to practice on Thursday with a cast on his lower arm and seemed to be okay for Sunday’s game.

Featured image courtesy: atlutd.com

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @robynsaghini

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Double the soccer fun in 2018 for Atlanta fans

Robyn Saghini - Atlanta United FC/mlsfemale
Official Atlanta United Reporter

By Robyn Saghini // @robynsaghini

Saturday, March 17: 4-1 Win

This past Saturday, March 24th, I was a witness to history – for the second time. I was at the season opener for ATL UTD’s USL team, ATL UTD 2. Season ticket holders for the first team were all given three free tickets for the USL team and after just one game, I was sold – and bought season tickets for them, too, even though they’re an hour away from me. It’s a chance to see guys on the first team roster that don’t usually get minutes in the Benz as well as some new guys who have yet to break into the first team.

All in all, it was a good time. The fans brought the noise and chants and the team brought the goals. ATL UTD 2 won the game 3-1 over NYRBII. After watching that first game, there’s no doubt this team will be fun to watch this year.

And now, back to the first team. Coming off a home opener that saw Atlanta United finally get that D.C. United raccoon witch curse off their backs, it was time to figure out how to defeat the tallest team in the league. Some will say we got “lucky” on St. Patrick’s Day, but Vancouver Whitecap‘s Kendall Waston was awarded a red card early in the game for an elbow to Leandro Gonzalez Pirez‘s head on a corner kick. That red card was later rescinded by an Independent Panel after the Whitecaps filed an appeal. Waston’s reaction to the red card will never not be funny, though.

After Waston’s exit, it was pretty much all Atlanta. Josef Martinez had an amazing game – and got his fourth MLS-career hat trick. Atlanta’s own Andrew Carleton got some actual first team minutes and notched an assist on Josef’s third goal of the night, which ended up being the MLS Goal of the Week.

There were a few not-so-good things that came out of that game, too, though. Miguel Almiron still hasn’t found his right foot; Franco Escobar got a knee or elbow to the head from goalie Brad Guzan and is currently in concussion protocol, so not sure if he’ll be playing this week or not; and LGP and Michael Parkhurst still have some work to do on communicating in the back and not letting those “consolation” goals through.

This weekend’s game is at Minnesota United FC – possibly in the snow again. Last year, we defeated them 6-1 at home and Josef got his first hat-trick. They defeated us at the Benz last year, but I think we got this one. Bring on the orange ball!

In other news:

  • We’re nearing the end of #BarcoWatch2; there’s a tiny possibility of him playing in MN this weekend, but more likely that he’ll play vs LAFC at home next week. *Fingers crossed*
  • Carleton and Chris Goslin were called up to the U20s Men’s National Team last week and got a trip to Spain.
  • Miggy was called up for the Paraguay national team and Darlington Nagbe for the USMNT for the USAvPAR game in Cary, NC on Tuesday, 3/27. The US won the game 1-0. Both of the ATL UTD players played at least 90 minutes and no one was injured, so all of Atlanta is breathing a sigh of relief.

Featured image courtesy: Robyn Saghini

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @robynsaghini

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

Oops, we did it again breaking ALL the records in Atlanta

Robyn Saghini - Atlanta United FC/mlsfemale
Official Atlanta United Reporter

By Robyn Saghini // @robynsaghini

Sunday, March 11: 3-1 Win

After a miserable season opener at Houston last week, Atlanta United FC redeemed itself by breaking the “raccoon witch curse” and the fans proved once again that soccer is thriving in Georgia.

In 2017, ATLUTD could not manage to scrape together a draw against DC United, let alone a win and the “raccoon witch curse” was born. Those raccoons at RFK Stadium obviously performed some unholy magic that somehow allowed the second-worst team in the league last year to defeat ATLUTD all three times they met.

In our home opener for 2018, though, the tables turned. Coach Tata Martino made some adjustments to the formation (more on that in a bit) and ATLUTD wins 3-1, with goals from Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, and Tito Villalba. My friend (and Mouths of the South podcaster), Jay Riddle had a theory:

ATLUTD played in a 3-5-2 formation this week (different from the usual 4-2-3-1) and Tata put Jeff Larentowicz (aka “Larry”) back as a defensive midfielder, Miggy back in at CM, and moved Greg Garza to left wing and Julian Gressel to right wing.

I’m usually a bit leery when Tata starts changing things around, but it was easy to see the guys had much better control this week. I was still nervous with only a 1-0 lead at the half, but then Miggy scored. And not even two minutes later, Tito scored (and I missed it because I was posting a picture of T.I. on the supporters stage to the MLSFemale IG story, which is how I got caught on ESPN, so there’s that).

Our old pal Yamil Asad may have scored DCU’s first goal of the season, but he wasn’t much help to them this weekend. Asad got some applause from the early fans when he walked into the stadium and hugged all of his former teammates when DCU came out for warmups, which nearly made me cry. However, he did have some trouble getting past Gressel and Franco Escobar on the right. The only goal for DCU was scored by Darren Mattocks, who slipped by Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and somehow managed to get a shot by Brad Guzan.

For a third time, ATLUTD broke the MLS single-game attendance record with 72,035 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday. The club also announced on Monday that they will open the full stadium for a fifth game (Oct 21 vs Chicago Fire, the final regular season game) this season. A friend of mine did the math and said this will bring us to just over 900,000 people at ATLUTD games in 2018. I’d like to see them open it up two more times (for a total of seven full-stadium games) so we can go over 1,000,000!

In other news this week, Julian Gressel made the MLS Team of the Week (with Almiron on the bench), and Miggy’s goal is up for Goal of the Week. I think ATL fans broke MLS’s system last year, so now you can only vote once (instead of once per hour like last year).

This coming Saturday, 3/17, ATLUTD host the Vancouver Whitecaps, who have an impressive streak of 18 road games undefeated. Vancouver got the best of our boys last year, but so did DCU – until they came to the Benz, so we’ll see what Tata and the boys do this week. I’m not betting against my boys and the home crowd, though. 😉

Featured image courtesy: atlutd.com

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @robynsaghini

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

So that happened to ATLUTD…

Robyn Saghini - Atlanta United FC/mlsfemale
Official Atlanta United Reporter

By Robyn Saghini // @robynsaghini

Saturday, March 3, 2018: 4-0 Loss

Atlanta United‘s preseason was…not ideal. They managed a single win against soon-to-be MLS rival Nashville SC in some crazy weather conditions and then a loss (vs Columbus Crew) and two draws (MNUFC and USL side Charleston Battery) during the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, SC.

During the week between the final game in Charleston and our first regular season game at Houston, it was announced that our brand new toy, Ezequiel Barco, sustained a quad injury in training and would be out for 4-6 weeks. This brought back nightmares to the ATLUTD faithful, as Josef Martinez suffered a similar injury early in the 2017 season while playing for the Venezuelan national team.

Barco’s injury and the fact that Michael Parkhurst was still recovering from an injury forced coach Tata Martino to make some pretty big changes in the lineup for the Houston Dynamo game.

Miguel Almiron, who has made the most impact at central attacking midfielder was pushed out to the left to cover for Barco. 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year Julian Gressel was slotted in to replace Almiron, Chris McCann was added as a defensive midfielder, and Jeff Larentowicz was pushed back to center back to replace Parkhurst.

This was, however, our first regular-season lineup with offseason acquisition Darlington Nagbe in it. We saw some lovely things from him in the preseason, but this game didn’t go as well for him – or any of the midfielders or CBs, for that matter.

It pains me to say this, but Leandro Gonzalez Pirez probably played his worst game ever. He ended up with a yellow card (Despite saying he was trying to get fewer cards this year; not such a great start there, LGP) was subbed out late in the first half with a hip contusion.

Maybe he was still hungover from his birthday celebration earlier in the week? Or he was distracted by the fact that he’s going to be a first-time dad later this year? I don’t know what got into him, but he was not himself this weekend and while ATLUTD is reporting that he’s day-to-day (did not practice on Tuesday) with this hip contusion, he could easily be out for 1-2 weeks or more.

While our list of injured players grew longer, at least our defense managed to shore itself up in the second half of the game on Saturday. After giving up four goals (!!) to Houston in the first half, the second half was scoreless. This is the first time ATLUTD fans have been on this side of a score like that. And it was not fun. My social media timelines were not a pleasant place to be on Sunday.

Thankfully, it was just the first game of the season. We have 33 more games to go and I have faith that they’ll figure it out soon enough.

In the meantime, we have our first home game of the season to look forward to (or not) this Sunday vs the only team that got the best of us three times (*angry emoji*) last season, DC United. DCU snuck around during the offseason and picked up Yamil Asad on loan from Velez Sarsfield in Argentina.

If you read any of my columns last year, you’ll know Asad was a fan favorite here in Atlanta in 2017. He will always be remembered for scoring the very first regular season ATLUTD goal and throwing ‘bows out on the field early in the season. He even went on to score DCU’s first goal of the season last week at Orlando (ha!).

ATLUTD take on DC United this Sunday, 3/11 at 3pm ET at home in front of a potentially record-breaking (again) crowd. The upper level will be open, which means 70k+ in attendance at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Featured image courtesy: atlutd.com

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @robynsaghini

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale