ATLANTA - The preseason jitters are gone, and the MLS season is back. For Atlanta United, this weekend marks the beginning of year two, one that has Atlanta fans eager and excited.
Final touches before our season opener. pic.twitter.com/NVOKWWXwBj— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) March 2, 2018
Despite finishing 1-1-2 in preseason play, Atlanta United provided a solid glimpse of its new talent and its goals for what it hopes to accomplish in its second season.
In an article on the team’s website, AU defender Michael Parkhurst remembered what it felt like to prepare for the team's inaugural season.
“I remember going into our first game last year thinking I had no idea if we were going to blow them out or get blown out ourselves,” Parkhurst said. “We did not have a lot of experience.”
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In its inaugural season, Atlanta United finished 15-9-10, finished fourth in the MLS Eastern Conference, set record-breaking attendance records and earned a spot in the MLS playoffs, but lost to Columbus Crew in the opening round. Although that loss in the playoffs was over four months ago, Atlanta United players and fans still remember the atmosphere and the feelings of that historic first season coming to an end.
With new additions and preseason play behind them, head coach Gerardo Martino and his team will begin another season on Saturday on the road against the Houston Dynamo, with the hopes of finishing what they started in their first year.
For midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, last season and this year’s preseason gave him a sense of how to prepare for Saturday’s game.
“Preseason is really about integrating new players and making sure new guys know the basis of the system,” Larentowicz said in an article. “We weren’t the final product on week one last year, but you saw how it came together, and I think we can do that again this year.”
Some of Atlanta United’s newest players – Darlington Nagbe, Ezequiel Barco, Romario Williams, Andrew Carleton and Andrew Wheeler-Ominu, to name a few – add depth to an already talented roster.
Combining the new with returning players like Josef Martinez, MLS Newcomer of the Year
Miguel Almirón and Rookie of the Year Julian Gressel is very exciting for both players and fans to witness.
The moment has finally come to see how Atlanta United will respond when it plays a Dynamo team that was extremely good at home a year ago and has a lethal scoring attack. Last season – under head coach Wilmer Cabrera – Houston recorded the most home wins (12) and third-most home goals (43).
The Dynamo were led by a group of forwards – Erick Torres, Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis – who combined for 34 goals last season. This year, Houston will be without Torres, who was acquired by another team during the offseason.
Even without Torres, Atlanta United knows that Houston remains a major threat, one that will serve as a critical early season test for the AU defense.
For records purposes, Atlanta United defeated Houston 4-1, using a two-goal advantage in the first half and never looking back in the second to finish off the Dynamo.
It is a new year, and Houston will be seeking revenge at home.
Houston, which finished fourth in the MLS Western Conference and reached the conference finals, suffered one loss in this year’s preseason action and will be looking to continue its early season momentum.
As for the Five Stripes, the defense will be key in limiting scoring opportunities. Atlanta United must establish good ball movement early on, but more importantly, capitalize on scoring opportunities in critical moments, something that was heavily discussed in the preseason among Martino and players.
Atlanta United, however, will have to do that without newcomer Ezequiel Barco at left wing, as he suffered a quad injury and will be sidelined for four to six weeks.
“It’s a shame because [Barco]’s been working hard in training ever since he joined us after missing a few days in preseason,” Martino said. “Tito [Villalba] was out for most of the preseason games, so the normal thing would be to put Tito into the lineup and see how the rest pieces together.”
But as Martino has said, there is plenty of depth on the team to help the Five Stripes as they look to start their second season with a victory.
Kickoff for the game is set for 3:30 p.m.
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