Atlanta United confident going into season opener Saturday

The Five Stripes will open the season at the Columbus Crew
Atlanta United forward Xande Silva (16) scores his team’s second goal under pressure during the first half against Columbus Crew in Game 2 of a first-round MLS playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. 
 Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Atlanta United forward Xande Silva (16) scores his team’s second goal under pressure during the first half against Columbus Crew in Game 2 of a first-round MLS playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. Miguel Martinez /

Atlanta United is starting its eighth MLS season with confidence.

Despite playing Columbus, the defending league champs and the team that knocked it out of the playoffs, and on the road, where it won only three of 17 league matches last season, striker Giorgos Giakoumakis said, “I don’t really care how we start, all I care about is to start with a win. Of course, it’s going to be a competitive game. They won the league title last year. So they have this honor, and it’s going to be nice to win at their home.”

Even getting a point, much less three, would be a good sign for Atlanta United. The Crew outscored Atlanta United 8-4 in the playoffs. Columbus’ roster mostly is unchanged. Atlanta United, after having one of the worst defenses in MLS, used the transfer window to rebuild its spine, adding a potential new goalkeeper, Josh Cohen, and centerback, Derrick Williams, and a definite starting centerback, Stian Gregersen, and midfielder Bartosz Slisz.

“We will be ready on Saturday,” Gregersen said. “It will be a big, big game because, not for me, but I know the club remembers the playoff games and yeah, we will be ready.”

Atlanta United spent much of its preseason focusing on improving its defensive shape and its press. Pineda said the team has worked on playing three at the back, with either a fullback or midfielder dropping back, with the idea to activate quickly players in each of the lines and let the fast wingers, Saba Lobjanidze and Xande Silva, attacking midfielder Thiago Almada and Giakoumakis create chances for each other.

Pineda said he has been following some of the interviews with his players and was pleased with how much they were talking about defense. The coaches have worked to convince the players that eliminating a few of the goals allowed could be the difference in the team finishing among the top four, which comes with home-field advantage in the playoffs.

“More than anything, is the willingness of the team to press and to defend, so we’re calling it press to attack because you have to give something to the attacker,” he said. “It’s a very difficult challenge for coaches at times, making the most talented players to defend is difficult, but if the message is we’re pressing in this way so we can attack even more ... that’s something they are interested in.”

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Atlanta United’s 2024 schedule

Feb. 24 at Columbus, 2 p.m.

March 9 vs. New England, 7:30 p.m.

March 17 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

March 23 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

March 31 vs. Chicago, 3:30 p.m., Fox

April 6 at NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

April 14 vs. Philadelphia, 2:30 p.m., Fox

April 20 vs. Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

April 27 at Chicago, 8:30 p.m.

May 4 vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m.

May 11 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

May 15 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

May 18 at Nashville, 1:30 p.m.

May 25 vs. LAFC, 7:30 p.m.

May 29 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.

June 2 vs Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., Fox

June 15 vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.

June 19 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 22 at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m.

June 29 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m.

July 3 at New England, 7:30 p.m.

July 6 at Real Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m.

July 13 at Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 17 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m.

July 20 vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Orlando, 6 p.m.