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Five Stripes Express

All you need to know about the 2018 Major League Soccer Champions, Atlanta United. 

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The Beginning of a New Era

Atlanta United joined Major League Soccer in 2017 as the twenty-second team in the league. Founded in 2014, the team spent its first few years developing a franchise that could compete in one of the best leagues in North America. It was clear from the start that Atlanta would become a team to set a new standard for future expansion teams, some of which have still failed to replicate.

Analyzing a team and their success is simple if you understand the structure in which they chose specific players and coaching staff. Before Atlanta United came to the scene and predominately prior to the 2010s, the majority of MLS teams had a team built around players from North America and other international players sprinkled here and there. The MLS had seen its fair share of major international names come to its stage with the likes of Pele (Brazil), David Beckham (England), Andres Pirlo (Italy), David Villa (Spain), and more. No team, however, had quite figured out a way to develop an exciting team that could break the mold of having 70% of the team from the U.S. That is until Atlanta United came to town.

Atlanta United decided to build their squad around three key factors: MLS veterans, homegrown talents, and untapped international potential. Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowciz were perfect examples of MLS veterans that this team used. Parkhurst played 236 MLS games (both regular season and playoffs) before coming to Atlanta United, and Larentowciz had played 317 games. If there was anyone who could help a new team settle into a tough league, it would be these two men. Despite their experience, these two players lacked energy that was needed for an expansion side. Thats where the homegrown players came in. Younger, less experienced players like Miles Robinson, Julian Gressel, and Brandon Vazquez brought the much needed energy levels to the team. Atlanta United could take these players and build them to be top performers in some time (Julian Gressel would become a top assister in the team, Miles Robinson would eventually become Atlanta United's best defender AND a starter for the US Mens National team, and Brandon Vazquez would leave to go to Cincinnati and help them win their first ever Supporters Shield). Having found their balance of league veterans and newcomers, the team needed one more thing: identity. Unlike the average MLS team at the time, Atlanta United found its identity abroad through international players. The team wanted to build a squad that excited the crowd and kept them engaged for the full 90 minutes. The most interesting piece, however, were that the players chosen were not well known. In fact, most MLS supporters had never heard of them until Atlanta captured their contractual signatures. Atlanta was taking a massive gamble, especially since most of their contracts weren't cheap.

Alongside signing numerous international players, the team surprisingly secured a well known international manager in Tata Martino. Most people in the U.S. may have scratched their heads because they weren't familiar with the name, but what soccer fans in the U.S. ARE familiar with is a country by the name of Argentina and a little team in Spain known as FC Barcelona. Martino had managed both these teams prior to coaching in the U.S. He even had the chance to manage an all time great, Lionel Messi. Martino was known for managing attack heavy teams with fast passing mentalities. This potential management style meant one thing for Atlanta United: you were never going to be bored.

In their first game against New York Red Bulls, Atlanta fielded three Americans (Gressel was of German nationality at the time), two Paraguayans, two Argentinians, one player from Venezuela, a German, an English player, and a Chilean. Having such a diverse lineup was still something new at the time, especially when New York's starting lineup consisted of six Americans. Despite the 2-1 loss away in their first match, Atlanta United showed promise of a squad that would immediately pose a threat to the league. Atlanta had 14 shots in comparison to New York's 9, and they held 53% of possession (it is often difficult to possess the majority of the ball when you are playing at an opposing stadium). Atlanta's second game away at Minnesota when they won 6-1 would make the final stamp necessary to prove that the framework of expansion teams in the MLS would be changed forever. 

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