It’s time Atlanta! The 2023 season is here and it brings a clean slate for every team in Major League Soccer. The offseason moves have happened, teams have gone through rigorous preseason trainings and friendlies, all leading up to this weekend. Saturday’s home opener against San Jose will be broadcast on the league’s new broadcast partner Apple TV through MLS Season Pass. One app, all the games, no blackouts, it doesn’t get any better than that.
On the pitch, this offseason brought some changes, and also some familiar faces looking to take their game to the next level. It will be a new era in the attack for Atlanta, while San Jose is breaking in a new head coach. Let’s take a closer look at the Tools to the Match presented by The Home Depot against San Jose Earthquakes.
Attack San Jose’s Backline Through Different Movements
One of the areas where Gonzalo Pineda and his staff wanted the team to get better at this offseason is the movements in the attacking third. Whether that’s running in behind the opposing backline, making the unselfish run to drag defenders out of position for teammates, or cutting across the first defenders on dangerous crosses, consistent movement has been a big point of emphasis. Atlanta has brought in several attacking pieces who fit that profile. Giorgos Giakoumakis joined from Scottish giants Celtic F.C., while Derrick Etienne Jr. was one of the big MLS free agent signings. Both of those players are known for their movements in and around the box. Miguel Berry was recently acquired from D.C. United and he provides a similar profile.
Their movements in the final third should free up playmakers Thiago Almada and Luiz Araújo to get space near the top of the box (Zone 14 for all you advanced analytic fans) and create dangerous goal scoring opportunities for themselves or their teammates. Almada ranked fifth in MLS with 3.03 chances created/90 mins last season, while Araújo led the team in preseason with six goals. Getting both of Atlanta’s playmakers off to hot starts could go a long way to determine the team’s success on Saturday and beyond.
Be Aware of Ebobisse and Espinoza
San Jose is bringing back two of the more dynamic attackers from last season. Forward Jeremy Ebobisse is coming off a career-best 17 goal season, while midfielder Cristian Espinoza turned provider for many of those goals with 14 assists. The duo figure to once again be the focal point of San Jose’s attack this season. Another player to keep an eye on for fans is winger Cade Cowell, who recently featured in the USMNT January camp. At just 19-years of age, Cowell is looking to have a breakout performance this year.
Atlanta’s backline is gaining some valuable experience as goalkeeper Brad Guzan and center back Miles Robinson return from season-ending injuries. The backline was hit with injuries throughout last season, as Atlanta conceded 54 goals. A rejuvenated Guzan and Robinson will look to lockdown that defense once again in 2023.
Take Advantage of Set Piece Opportunities
Atlanta United was one of the better teams in MLS last season in scoring from set pieces. Juanjo Purata became a force on attacking set pieces with his aerial dual prowess. He scored six goals with all of them coming from corner or free kicks. With the return of Robinson, the addition of Giakoumakis and Berry, Atlanta’s attacking set pieces could become a factor once again. Last season the team finished in a tie for third in MLS with six Goal Assists from dead ball situations. Only Real Salt Lake and Portland Timbers (7) had more. While the team has focused this preseason on creating opportunities from the run of play, set pieces are another threat that Atlanta can develop this season. If it can score off set pieces on Saturday, it will go a long way to keeping the team’s perfect record against San Jose. The all-time record stands at 3-0-0 (W-L-T) in favor of Atlanta United.
Fans can tune in nationally on Apple TV/MLS Season Pass on Saturday night at 7:30pm ET when the action kicks off in front of a full venue Mercedes-Benz Stadium. To hear the action on radio, tune into Sports Radio 92.9 The Game or La Mejor – AM 1600 (Spanish).