Atlanta United won the first of the club's five preseason matches Saturday 2-1 behind goals from Giorgos Giakoumakis and Nick Firmino. The 5-Stripes traveled to Alabama to take on Birmingham Legion FC, a club in the USL Championship, on a rainy evening at Protective Stadium. The teams played the friendly in two 45-minutes halves, and head coach Gonzalo Pineda sent on three different groups to give as many players as possible active minutes.
Starting XI for Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda:
Brad Guzan (C), Aiden McFadden, Stian Gregersen, Derrick Williams, Ronald Hernández, Tristan Muyumba, Javier Armas, Xande Silva, Nick Firmino, Luke Brennan, Giorgos Giakoumakis
This marked the first time wearing the 5-Stripes for defenders Stian Gregersen and Derrick Williams. We also saw some of standouts from last season's Atlanta United 2 squad who have seen minutes before with the first team. Nick Firmino and Luke Brennan appeared in Pineda's starting lineup.
A name 17s may not know as well yet is Javier Armas, who made his preseason debut with Atlanta United. Armas was a second round pick out of Oregon State for Atlanta United in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft. Earlier in January, Armas signed with Atlanta United 2 through the 2024 MLS NEXT Pro season with a club option for 2025. Armas plays midfield and is originally from Spain.
In their preseason debuts, Gregersen and Williams lined up as the two center backs. The pair were involved in Atlanta's first score of the evening on a recycled corner kick. Gregersen won back the ball and Williams sent it into the box to Atlanta United's lethal striker. Giakoumakis hammered it home to give Atlanta the 1-0 lead.
Firmino made it 2-0 after some saucy moves to create space in a 1v1 situation, showing how he reached 16 goals last year in MLS NEXT Pro. The club's leading scorers last season in MLS (Giakoumakis) and MLS NEXT Pro (Firmino) were the two goal scorers in the first preseason match.
Some other highlights included a shot by Xande Silva after a slick give-and-go inside the 18-yard-box with Tristan Muyumba. The shot was on goal but stopped on a kick-save from Birmingham goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel.
Rain drove down at Protective Stadium when Pineda made the switch to the second group around the 30th minute. The XI for this group were Josh Cohen, Daniel Russo, Luis Abram, Noah Cobb, Brooks Lennon, Jay Fortune, Dax McCarty, Tyler Wolff, Derrick Etienne Jr., Saba Lobjanidze, Jamal Thiaré.
From the jump, Thiaré had back-to-back chances inside the box, but they were just out of reach. Abram and Cobb lined up as the two center backs in this group. Josh Cohen, the new goalkeeper acquired during the offseason from Maccabi Haifa in the Israeli Premier League, made his preseason debut between the sticks for Atlanta. Cohen showed good hands with a save early. However, not long after that a deflected shot got through and Atlanta United conceded their first goal of the night to make the scoreline 2-1.
The teams took a halftime break, then Atlanta United sent out this group to start the second 45. Meanwhile, Birmingham Legion started the second half with a mix of first team players and trialists.
Saba Lobjanidze had a breakaway chance down the sideline after receiving a superb ball from Brooks Lennon. The winger tried to slip a low-driven shot in the opposite side netting, but he pushed the ball just wide. In the final minutes of wild action, Lobjanidze had two more shots. Both were blocked by Birmingham Legion.
The third and final group for Atlanta United subbed on right around the 63rd minute. This consisted of more Atlanta United 2 and Academy players: Quentin Westberg, Dominik Chong Qui, Kaiden Moore, Efraín Morales, Matthew Edwards, Julian Bretous, Noble Okello, Rocket Ritarita, Cooper Sánchez, Owen Koutsos, Ashton Gordon.
Only two players in this group (Westberg and Morales) are signed with the first team, so this gave some young players valuable action against a competitive side. Some were on the U-16 squad crowned MLS NEXT Cup Champions under Kevin Kratz in June.
Playing up top in the no. 9 spot, Gordon wound up to take a shot outside the box, which was deflected. Ritarita collected the ball and didn't hesitate to take a shot of his own, which went out-of-bounds for an Atlanta United corner kick. Gordon set up another opportunity with a lofted ball over the box to Koutsos, who was wide open. Koutsos brought the ball down with his chest, but the shot was smothered by the Birmingham Legion goalkeeper.
This young Atlanta group held it down in the final 30 minutes of play to secure the 2-1 win for the 5-Stripes in the preseason opener. It's the third time the club has won a preseason friendly at Birmingham Legion.