The offseason brought Giorgos Giakoumakis good things, including what he called a “big” wedding in his home country of Greece, and he returned to Atlanta well-rested for his first full preseason with the 5-Stripes.
The Atlanta United striker spoke to the media Tuesday following the team’s first open training of the year at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. After training, Giakoumakis told reporters that he was feeling great ahead of the new season.
“My expectations are the same as always,” he said. “When you play for a club like Atlanta United, you have to aim for titles. Simple as that.”
Atlanta United fell short of those expectations in 2023. While the club qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs, eventual champion Columbus Crew bounced Atlanta United from the competition, winning two matches in the Round One Best-of-3 series. Atlanta only played at home once in the series (a 4-2 win in Game 2) which only validates the importance of earning home field advantage in 2024.
“It’s really important to end the regular season in the top four spot,” Giakoumakis said. “You have home advantage, which is really crucial for playoffs. That’s the most important thing throughout the season: have a steady performance, be one of the top teams and end up in one of the top four spots.”
Individually, Giakoumakis wants to do what he’s done so well since joining MLS: score goals. In 2023, he scored 17 goals in just 1791 minutes played, just three goals shy of the Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga, which was a major reason why Giakoumakis was named the 2023 MLS Newcomer of the Year.
While Giakoumakis doesn’t have a certain number of goals he’s trying to hit in 2024, Atlanta United’s leading scorer last season does have a goal-specific metric in mind.
"The main goal is to win the Golden Boot this year, to stay healthy first of all,” he said. “Winning the Golden Boot means you’ve probably scored lots of goals that will also the team win some points. That’s one of the main targets for this year."
Heading into the 2024 regular season, which kicks off for Atlanta United February 24 on the road in Columbus, Giakoumakis shared he was encouraged by the way the 5-Stripes played in the second half of 2023. The club finished the regular season ranked second in MLS in goals scored (66), trailing only MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew.
Atlanta United returns many of its attacking players who helped create one of the most productive attacks in MLS last season. A handful of those players who were added during the summer transfer window will also return: Saba Lobjanidze, Tristan Muyumba and Xande Silva, whose option was exercised in December.
“After the summer, we were a totally different team,” Giakoumakis said. “We added some players that made the difference for us. If we stick together the same group, we can be even better and end up in a higher spot.”
“They’re guys with experience, so they can bring this winning mentality to us,” Giakoumakis continued. “With their help, we can go to the next level, to aim for something bigger. They were helpful throughout the second part of the  season, and I think they’re going to be even more this year.”
Perhaps most importantly for Giakoumakis, the offseason provided some well-earned, and much-needed, rest. Giakoumakis joined Atlanta United in February 2023, straight from Celtic FC in the Scottish Premiership. The Premiership season runs from around August through April/May, which means essentially Giakoumakis was playing competitively while Atlanta United was in their offseason.
So, getting some designated time for recovery, rest and time with family this time around was very much appreciated.
“It was a lifesaver,” Giakoumakis said Tuesday. “Mostly about my body. Physically I was feeling that I needed to stop for a bit because I was playing for a full year and a half. My body was giving me some signs. Not in the end, in the end I was feeling great, but during the season like small thigh injuries that I’d never had before. My body was reacting. It was very crucial to have these days off to rebuild my body, my fitness and everything to be in the top level again.”