(Atlanta United Website)
The 67,538 attendees in Mercedes-Benz Stadium were heard buzzing following two spectacular stoppage time goals from the only active MLS player to ever win a World Cup in Atlanta's season opener Saturday night against San Jose. In a game that felt so similar to last year, I was starting to lose hope. Thiago Almada, proving that he is the best player on pitch, extinguished this double of mine with providing me with screams of excitement and jumps for victory.
My focus on this game was around one thing: Atlanta had to score first. From a disappointing 2022 season, the loss of Josef Martinez, and a shaky preseason... fans were not very confident heading into the night. A goal first by Atlanta would push those iffy thoughts into excitement and allow Atlanta's attack to get comfortable. In the 12th minute, the exact opposite happened as San Jose carved through our midfield third, allowing Cristian Espinoza lots of space to push down the right side of the box and cross a beautiful ball to Jeremy Ebobisse, who was left unmarked. The blow continued after a San Jose hand ball in the box awarded Atlanta a penalty kick, which Luiz Araujo missed the open left side of the net by a hair. Heading into halftime, I was very concerned about what I saw.
The second half was more of the same, many frustrating attacks going to waste after not connecting on a pass or sailing a far shot way off the target. Araujo and Brooks Lennon both barely missed the goal wide left throughout the half. Finally, in the 93rd minute Brooks Lennon laid a corner off to Almada, about 23 yards away from the net, who took a touch with his right foot then bulleted a shot that bounces down off the crossbar and into the back of the net. In my head, I felt relieved with earning the point, but disappointed with the quality of play from us. In the 98th minute, Derrick Etienne Jr. earns a free kick outside the 18 yard box. In which seems to be the final play of the game, Atlanta lines up their own wall to block San Jose's. Almada finds the upper right corner, leaving no chance for any goalkeeper to make a save on the ball. After his first, Almada was not letting anyone else take that free kick. After winning the World Cup, Almada does not take any time shining once again to start the season.
Besides these moments, overall I have mixed emotions with our performance. Franco Ibarra played his best match in Atlanta in my opinion. Brad Guzan and Miles Robinson had flashes of their old selves after season ending injuries. Caleb Wiley looked good, but he has to win more 1 v 1s to be successful as a winger in this system. Araujo, who won many duels, needs to be better in the final third. After last year, he just needs to be more quality for his price tag. Both Jackson Conway and Miguel Berry were quiet at the striker position. Matheus Rossetto was also quiet in the midfield. Brooks Lennon and Andrew Gutman had some defensive mistakes, but overall were solid.
Next up is still at home Saturday March 4th at 7:30 pm against Toronto FC. Toronto, just like San Jose, gave up two late goals against DC United and lost 3-2 on the road. Toronto's star Lorenzo Insigne left the match due to a non-contact left leg injury in the first half and his status will look doubtful Saturday. Atlanta look to have their designated player in the lineup, Giorgos Giakoumakis, as the visa issues hopefully clear up this week. Look out for my projected starting 11 on Friday.