Atlanta United are one of the expansion teams kicking off in 2017. Unlike Minnesota United, Atlanta is going with the explosive high spending methods for expansion team construction employed by New York City FC and Orlando City SC. Indeed, they have been splashing cash on talent right from the beginning of their team. They have a lot of local enthusiasm and strong players fueling lofty opening season expectations
Three Questions for the 2017 Atlanta United Season
There’s no doubt that the team has talent and that they are built to make the playoffs right away. However, no expansion team has made the playoffs in their first season since Seattle in 2008. Even the sides that spent big like NYCFC and Orlando had to wait a year or more to get in. Here are three questions Atlanta United will have to answer in order to make their postseason visions a reality.
Will the High Money Attackers Mesh Well?
Atlanta wasn’t shy about spending big money in order to bring in high end talent to fill out their first ever MLS roster. They spent over $12.5 million in this winter alone and that doesn’t include the addition of attacking talisman Kenwyne Jones, who was bought early and loaned to Central FC in Trinidad and Tobago. Home Depot founder and owner of the Atlanta Falcons Arthur Blank certainly wasn’t shy about spending on his latest property. He empowered technical director Carlos Bocanegra to go out and find the best talent possible at whatever the cost.
As a result, the club spent about $8 million on Miguel Almiron and around $2.5 million on Hector Villalba to play the wings and complete their attacking trio. Those two designated players certainly are talented, but can they work together with Jones in just one short offseason to prepare?
If they do mesh into a coherent attacking unit we can see an Atlanta United team that can score goals at will. It might take time to happen, but I expect to see Almiron, Villalba, and Jones to eventually become a real threat. March and April might be a little slow, but I think Atlanta will heat up with the weather in Georgia and start scoring a ton by the end of spring.
Will They Have a Great Defense?
The last two sides to employ this free spending method were New York City and Orlando City, who both missed the playoffs in their first season as the star power failed to gel right away. Unlike those two sides, Atlanta built their team on both sides of the ball. In addition to notable attackers, money was also spent on central defender Leandro Pirez to start alongside MLS regular Michael Parkhurst. Their back line is completed by sometimes USMNT left back Greg Garza, who is on loan from Tijuana, and Tyrone Mears, who brings MLS Cup winning pedigree to an expansion team at right back.
That’s a pretty sturdy defense regardless of how new the team is. If this unit can become one and work well to keep goals out than we could be talking about an Atlanta team that not only scores goals, but prevents them just as well. That’s the makings of a playoff team if they can put it all together.
What Will the Atmosphere Be Like?
Lots has been said about the high levels of enthusiasm surrounding the club in the Atlanta area. They have sold 29,000 (and counting) season tickets so far and are expected to fill Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium for their March 5 home opener. Towards the end of the summer they will move into the crazy high tech Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which they will share with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.The soccer capacity at the new building is a strong 40,000 that could be expanded to as many as 71,000 if the demand is there.
The team has a strong Supporters Group with the Terminus Legion that will hopefully be able to create a thrilling atmosphere in a packed house. The opening home slate might be a little dull in a temporary stadium, but once the move to the new crib is complete I fully expect Atlanta United to have one of the better home atmospheres in the league. The nickname “Seattle of the South” has already been thrown around. Let’s see if they can do that some justice.
Atlanta United should be a very interesting team to watch. Built to win right away and featuring a fan experience that could be second to none in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta United will certainly be worth watching all season long, especially once the move to Mercedes-Benz Stadium is complete. If the talent comes together and plays well for their numerous fans we could be talking about an expansion team making the playoffs in their first season for the first time in nine years.