Atlanta United has quickly become the talk of MLS in just about every single way a team can dominate the discussion. The team is really fun to watch, it has a couple of MVP candidates and the sellout crowd at its home opener was amazing. ATL also had some growing pains with crowd management from a couple of different angles, and on the pitch, its defense is a major work in progress.
Once again, ATL gets the privileged of being showcased on national TV, this time for its second home match. Saturday represents an opportunity for the team to prove it’s making progress on fixing what didn’t work and for its top attackers to show they’re no fluke.
Elsewhere in MLS, there’s an excellent slate of games. Sunday’s standalone national TV game is must-see, while Saturday is loaded with good matchups for 12 straight hours. We’re particularly interested in what the Houston Dynamo can do in a tough test away from home.
If you missed anything from Week 2 in MLS, catch up here.
Your national TV games (all times ET)
No ESPN game this weekend due to basketball, but the two national TV games we do get should be good. Atlanta is the most exciting team in the league, and Chicago has looked competent in both of its games. Seattle’s off to a rough start, but has appeared capable of scoring, while the Red Bulls look like they can finish top of the East again.
MLS Live games, ranked
- Portland Timbers vs. Houston Dynamo — Saturday, 10:30 p.m.
- New York City FC vs. Montreal Impact — Saturday, 2 p.m.
- Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 4 p.m.
- Colorado Rapids vs. Minnesota United — Saturday, 9 p.m.
- Real Salt Lake vs. LA Galaxy — Saturday, 9:30 p.m.
- FC Dallas vs. New England Revolution — Saturday, 8 p.m.
- Sporting Kansas City vs. San Jose Earthquakes — Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
- Orlando City vs. Philadelphia Union — Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
- D.C. United vs. Columbus Crew SC — Saturday, 7 p.m.
Once again, if you’re new to MLS this season, all non-national TV, out-of-market games can be seen online at MLS Live. It costs $80 for the whole season and features archives, highlights, and a really nice 10-minute extended highlights cut for all of the games. In-market and national TV games become available after 48 hours.
This is a really nice week for matchups. Everything 1-7 appears to be worth your time. Only the bottom two games look blah, and even then, all four of those teams have some players capable of doing something great.
Timbers-Dynamo is the game most likely to become a goal-fest, though NYCFC-Montreal could be the same. Vancouver-Toronto is the first proper rivalry match of the season, while RSL-LA is the “whose coach will get fired first?” derby. Poor Minnesota is probably going to take another pasting this weekend.
One big storyline: Can Atlanta United consistently improve everything?
Good things about Atlanta United so far: Sellout crowd, dynamite attack
Bad things about Atlanta United so far: Defense, composure, stadium management hiccups, homophobic chants
There’s been some great and some awful about Atlanta through the first two weeks of its debut season, and it’s currently inconclusive how good of a team it’s going to be, and how good the fan experience is going to be.
There won’t be 55,000 fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium this week, but there should still be a huge crowd of comfortably more than 35,000 for ATL’s second home match. The team and Georgia Tech have worked together to make sure stadium operations run more smoothly this time around, while some fans are organizing a “Hey Ya” goal kick chant to drown out a homophobic one that was used against the New York Red Bulls. Hopefully those two changes make Atlanta’s fan experience one of the best in the league.
As far as things on the pitch, the team appears to have two legitimate MVP candidates in Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez. The two DP attackers have been sensational in their first two games, and they should be able to create chances at home against the Fire. But the midfield and defense behind them have been shaky, throwing away a lead against the Red Bulls and allowing quite a few unconverted chances (admittedly in the snow) against Minnesota.
Carlos Carmona’s red card, Anton Walkes’ own goal and Jeff Larentowicz’s conceded penalty over the last two weeks don’t exactly inspire confidence in Atlanta’s defensive unit. Goalkeeper Alec Kann hasn’t been terrible, but he doesn’t look like more than a Brad Guzan placeholder either.
There’s a lot for Atlanta to work on. There’s a lot to love about the team, too. There’s a big opportunity to show that it can be one of the league’s premier teams in every way — not just in entertainment value for neutrals — on Saturday.
One player to watch: Clint Dempsey
Despite Bruce Arena’s insistence that Dempsey wouldn’t make the USMNT for March’s World Cup qualifiers, Deuce is in the squad. He’s gone 90 minutes in both of Seattle’s first two games, doing enough to convince Arena he’s fit. But Dempsey hasn’t hit top form yet and isn’t guaranteed a starting place.
Dempsey’s history of delivering in big moments for the USMNT is a long and illustrious one, so Arena would probably love to start Dempsey if he’s given a good reason to. A man of the match performance against the Red Bulls would count as a good reason.
But what if Dempsey still looks a little bit short of his best? It’ll be tough for Arena to bench Bobby Wood or Jozy Altidore, especially given that their partnership was the lone bright spot of the final months of Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure.
A quick deviation from the format: Watch the LA Galaxy “Shooting Stars” video again:
OK, for those who didn’t see any of this: Jelle Van Damme got sent off on Sunday for accumulating yellow cards during incidents where he didn’t make contact with anyone. His first yellow card was for dissent after a bad foul call and his second for intending to foul even though he didn’t actually catch any of David Guzman. The LA Galaxy’s social media team had some fun with this, setting Timbers players going down — in their opinion, diving — to “Shooting Stars” and putting them in funny situations.
Anyway, Portland’s social media team got #MadOnline and LA got a little talking to from the league office about trolling because no one is allowed to have fun. But I want to plant a flag in the ground: I am 100 percent pro-trolling and anti-teams getting salty about being trolled. More of this, please.
Two things to read before games get underway
Jordon Wohl for Brotherly Game on the improvement of Philadelphia’s role players, particularly its wingers, and how its starting XI appears to be taking shape quickly in impressive fashion.
Harrison Hamm for Dynamo Theory on Houston’s front three being a ton of fun.