180301_MatchPreview_Houston

Match Preview: Atlanta United at Houston Dynamo

The moment has arrived, what every Five Stripes fan has been eagerly anticipating: the beginning of chapter two. Atlanta United officially kicks off their second year and the 2018 MLS regular season on Saturday as they travel to Texas to face the Houston Dynamo in just the second-ever meeting between the two clubs. Last season it was ATL UTD who cruised to a 4-1 victory in the ATL, so Houston will be seeking redemption as they welcome Atlanta to BBVA Compass Stadium this weekend.

The match kicks off at 3:30 p.m. EST and will be nationally broadcast on Univision. The match will also be available to watch in English via the SAP function – click here for more details.

Atlanta United

With last year’s remarkable run and a full six weeks of preseason in the rear view, Atlanta United heads into their second season hoping to emerge even stronger than before. With a year under their belt and some reinforcements added in the offseason, the Five Stripes are prepared to kick off the 2018 MLS regular season on Saturday.

Returning from last year and headlining the Atlanta United attack are two members of the 2017 MLS Best XI, forward Josef Martinez and midfield maestro Miguel Almirón – who also earned the title of MLS Newcomer of the Year and happened to bag a hat trick against Houston last season. They’re also joined by the reigning Rookie of the Year Julian Gressel as well as Argentine winger Tito Villalba.

The 2018 preseason provided a chance to see some new faces in Five Stripes, including U.S. international Darlington Nagbe who seamlessly plugged into the center of the park, distributing and creating out of the midfield. The league’s all-time record signing ­– 18-year-old Argentine Ezequiel Barco – also impressed and found a spot in the starting XI, but unfortunately will not be available this weekend due to a quad injury which is expected to keep him sidelined for 4-6 weeks. But Tata Martino has continuously emphasized the depth and strength of his roster, so ATL UTD fans could see one of many quality options step up in Barco’s absence.

Last season Atlanta’s attack grabbed the headlines but the side also thrived on the other side of the ball, recording eight clean sheets in their last eleven matches and boasting a +30 goal differential throughout the regular season, ranking fourth-best all-time in MLS. They were also one of just three teams to not have a negative road goal differential (+1) and finished with a road record of 4W-6L-7D. ATL UTD will hope to build on that road success as they head to Houston for the 2018 season opener this weekend.

Houston Dynamo

Houston enters 2018 coming off one of their most successful seasons of the past few years, finishing fourth in the Western Conference table and reaching the conference finals, only to fall just short of an MLS Cup appearance. In his second year in charge, there’s no doubt Wilmer Cabrera will make sure his side hard to beat once again, particularly at BBVA Compass Stadium where the Dynamo had the second-most home wins (12) and third-most home goals (43) in MLS last season. Both were also the most in a season for the club since 2010.

Most of that impressive goal tally was due to a trio of lethal forwards who each scored 10+ goals in 2017 – Erick Torres (14), Mauro Manotas (10) and Alberth Elis (10). And while the squad lost Torres as well as their midfield cog, Alex, to other clubs this offseason, they’ve officially signed Elis to a long-term contract after only being on loan last season. The Honduran international turned heads around the league at the age of 21, there’s no telling what 2018 has in store for the young speedster.

The Dynamo have shown signs that they’re more than ready to build on last year’s success as they nearly went undefeated against MLS competition during this year’s preseason, just falling in penalties in the final of the Mobile Mini Sun Cup. And new additions Arturo Alvarez and Darwen Ceren also seem to be integrating into the team faultlessly, so Atlanta United will certainly have their hands full on Saturday afternoon as they open the MLS regular season.