Where one story ends, another begins as Atlanta United concluded its 2022 preseason on Sunday with a 4-0 win against Birmingham Legion FC.
The soccer match was the first played at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Ala. The upgraded stadium holds about 45,000 and will be the new home for Birmingham Legion FC.
The match was also the final of Atlanta United’s six preseason friendlies. Next Sunday Feb. 27, the club opens the MLS regular season against Sporting Kansas City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Tickets to the match are available here.
"I will say that we're going to come in a very good shape," head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. "I hope starting at home will increase that urgency for winning. And I think the team can expand a little bit on any aspect of the game like tactically, technically and physically, for the game against Kansas."
The starters for Atlanta United against Birmingham Legion FC were Brad Guzan, Andrew Gutman, Miles Robinson, George Campbell, Ronald Hernández, Amar Sejdić, Ozzie Alonso, Matheus Rossetto, Tyler Wolff, Josef Martínez and Luiz Araújo.
Atlanta United received a gift in the fourth minute for its first goal. Araújo applied heavy pressure on Birmingham’s backline. The pass back got away from goalkeeper Matt VanOekel and resulted in an own goal for an early 1-0 Atlanta United lead.
Araújo had another opportunity in the 36th minute when he got in behind the Birmingham defense but was pulled down by Mikey Lopez in a tough no-call for Atlanta United.
Later in the 42nd, Martínez found the goal on what capped off a fast team attack. Rossetto ran down a ball over the top and back-heeled it to Martínez, who was teed up nicely at the top of the 18-yard box to deliver a low shot past the keeper.
Atlanta United came out of the locker room and got off to a hot start in the second half. Hernández made a diagonal run in the box that put him right near the six-yard box. Sejdić chipped the ball where Hernández squeezed it past the keeper.
A couple minutes later, Martínez made it 4-0 in the 51st minute. Martínez finished the day with a brace. Sejdić recorded three assists.
"We had some runs in behind which are very important, and I just picked my head up and was able to see the runners," Sejdić said. "It was a little more fluid in the second half, definitely the first 15 minutes, and we took advantage. Then, when you have guys that can score goals in a single touch, two touches, it just shows that we can be very lethal."
Pineda gave an indication of how his team might line up against Sporting Kansas City in the regular season opener next week. He went with Robinson and Campbell as the two center backs. Alan Franco will be unavailable against Sporting Kansas City due to a red card suspension he received during the last match of 2021 against New York City FC.
Caleb Wiley came on for Gutman in the second half. And Dom Dwyer was subbed on for Rossetto.
Atlanta United was missing a few players who've been integral to preseason play. Thiago Almada, Santiago Sosa and Franco Ibarra are finalizing their visas from Argentina and it's uncertain how long the process will take and whether they'll be available against Sporting Kansas City.
The scrimmage on Sunday consisted of a full 90 minutes, and Pineda kept most of his starters in the full match. The absence of Ibarra opened up a spot for Sejdić and gave him the opportunity to create good play with Rossetto, Alonso and the other attacking players.
"They are very good connectors on the ball," Pineda said. "They are always demanding the ball. So these interchange of positions are good for me because they are always organized, but they're always interchanging positions and that creates confusion for the opposition."
This is the third consecutive season that Atlanta United has met Birmingham Legion FC in the preseason. Birmingham Legion FC is a professional soccer club based in Birmingham, Ala. that plays in the USL Championship, the second-tier division of American soccer that Atlanta United 2 also plays in.
Atlanta United 2 and Birmingham Legion face each other twice in the 2022 season on July 6 and Aug. 6.