Here we are folks, the start of the 2017 MLS regular season. The Red Bulls already have two meaningful games underneath their belts, but those can just be warm-ups compared to what they are about to face on Sunday night.
Atlanta United. A new expansion team. Over 40,000 fans on-hand to kick things off. Atlanta will be rocking.
I caught up with Haris Kruskic of SB Nation’s Dirty South Soccer to get his take on the inaugural match for Tata Martino’s side:
Once a Metro: Two years ago, we saw NYCFC and Orlando enter the league with huge attendance. Atlanta is seems can exceed those numbers due to the reported amount of season ticket packages sold. Is there any way to describe the excitement around Atlanta's first professional match?
Dirty South Soccer: I can't imagine there is a fan-base in MLS more excited for the start of the season than Atlanta United's. Regardless of what events the club hosts, people come in droves to show their support. Last September, over 1,000 fans were in attendance to watch the first home U-18 match. Last month, over 12,000 came to Atlanta's first ever preseason match in Chattanooga, a reported 8,000 of which were Atlanta United supporters. And two weeks ago, the club announced that over 40,000 tickets have been sold for our season opener. The city is hungry for soccer. It's very surreal that this club launched in 2014 and now we're days away from our first MLS match. It really is an exciting time to be an Atlanta soccer fan.
OaM: Everything Atlanta is doing seems to be putting all of the establish fan-bases in awe (high-profile head coach, big name signings, new stadium, etc.) What do you think are some things that the team could be overlooking that would contribute to possible struggles this season?
DSS: I think there's concern about our backline. It's obvious most of the front office's off-season focus was geared towards the attack. It's already tough enough as it is for a backline to have chemistry. Now put four guys in Greg Garza, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst and Tyrone Mears who have never played together before on a backline of a team that has playoff hopes in its first season. That's a lot to ask of those guys.
Of course, chemistry is a general concern for all expansion teams. All the players are, for the most part, unfamiliar with one another. The fan-base will definitely have to temper expectations early on in the season while the guys learn to gel.
OaM: Who are some of the big names people should be watching for this Sunday?
DSS: We played four matches during the preseason and it's already obvious Miguel Almiron is the focal point of this team. He commands the midfield, he's fast, and his decision-making is excellent.
Josef Martinez has the potential to score 20 goals this season. Even as a DP, I think we in Atlanta were surprised by his finishing capabilities during the preseason.
Again, you'll see that pace tends to be the theme of the Atlanta attack. This is definitely a Tata Martino system.
Expected injuries/omissions: Zach Loyd
Expected Starting XI: 4-2-3-1: Alec Kann; Greg Garza, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst, Tyrone Mears; Jeff Larentowicz, Carlos Carmona; Yamil Asad, Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba; Josef Martinez
Expected scoreline: 2-2
The match has been moved to a 7:30pm start on Sunday night, televised nationally on Fox Sports 1. Very thankful the season is upon us once more.