After suffering a penalty kick loss to Columbus Crew SC in the first round of last year’s MLS playoffs, Atlanta United returns to MLS to face off against Western Conference opponent Houston Dynamo Saturday March 3 in BBVA Compass Stadium in Texas.
The Five Stripes will begin their second season with high expectations after shattering MLS transfer records in the offseason. Atlanta was able to bring in highly coveted teenager Ezequiel Barco from Argentinian club Independiente for $15 million, and midfielder Darlington Nagbe from Portland for a potential $1.65 million in allocation money.
However, the Five Stripes face a challenging opponent in week one as the new signings try to merge into an already dangerous squad. The Houston Dynamo earned a trip into the Western Conference finals before losing to the Seattle Sounders 5-0 in aggregate.
The biggest headline for the Dynamo heading into the 2018 campaign is the loss of the club’s leading scorer, Erick “Cubo” Torres to Pumas in Liga MX. Torres led the Texas-based club in scoring for the 2017 season.
Although the Dynamo lost a team leader, the Texas club was able to make some key additions by signing Juan David Cabezas and Alberth Elis to permanent deals off loans from the 2017 season. Cabezas led the team in completed passes and Elis provided the club with 52 interceptions which was a team high.
The biggest headline heading into the season opener is the absence of teenage phenome Ezequiel Barco. The 18-year-old from Argentina suffered a right quad strain in a training session on Tuesday. Barco is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.
The injury for the record-breaking signing provides numerous possibilities as to who will start in the left midfield role. Atlanta fans are eager to see Atlanta-native Andrew Carleton see first team minutes. Former rookie of the year Julian Gressel could start in Barco’s place, Almiron could be shifted on the left side, or multiple more complicated moves could be made by Tata Martino.
The Five Stripes will still be looking to be as ruthless on attack as they were in its inaugural season, with the same core group of Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, and Hector Villalba all returning for the sophomore season.
Week one provides Atlanta United with a tough interconference challenge to open up a second season filled with championship expectations. The Dynamo will provide a distinct challenge as BBVA proved to be a fortress for the Western Conference club.