Atlanta United vs. Miami: the ingredients for history are there

The ingredients are in place for history Saturday when Atlanta United hosts Miami at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

First, Lionel Messi, the world’s greatest player and one of the best in soccer’s history, will be in town and is expected to play.

Second, more than 70,000 tickets have been sold and distributed, with more than 400 credentials issued for journalists.

Third, because of the $2.5 billion partnership between MLS and Apple, the match can be seen around the world.

Fourth, it will mark the return to Atlanta of Josef Martinez, who was named the 2018 MLS MVP while with Atlanta United from 2017-22, and Gerardo Martino, who led the Five Stripes to the MLS Cup in 2018. Both are with Miami.

Lastly, the match is important. Atlanta United is trying to improve its sixth-place standing in the Eastern Conference. Miami is trying to steadily climb from last, which is where it was when Messi signed in July, and into the nine-team playoff field.

It should be fun.

“Is it a big game? For sure,” Atlanta United captain Brad Guzan said. “Is it the most important game since (the 2019 playoffs)? I don’t know if I would go as far to say that because it’s, it’s always the next game. It’s always what can you affect now, and all we can do is is plan and get ready for Saturday.”

Atlanta United will be the first team in MLS to get a second crack at solving Messi and Miami. The Herons are unbeaten in matches, Leagues Cup and MLS, when Messi has started or come off the bench. Miami defeated Atlanta United 4-0 in the Leagues Cup. Messi, as he has done throughout his career to clubs and national teams around the world, scored. Twice, to be on point.

Messi already has 11 goals and five assists in 11 appearances for Miami, bringing his career totals to 721 goals and 344 appearances as a professional for clubs Barcelona, Barcelona’s youth team, Paris Saint-Germain and Miami. He also has scored 104 goals for Argentina, which he led to the World Cup last year.

Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said he’s told his team that one of the prizes Saturday would be to become the first MLS team to defeat Messi and Miami.

“At home, 75,000 fans cheering for us,” he said. “I think that motivates us enormously. And we take that energy into the game. So I’m actually quite happy about this stage, in this moment with Messi, and it’s a big game. He’s gonna be a good challenge, for sure. But I think it’s going to motivate the players.”

To do so, Atlanta United will have to play much better than it did in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when Miami easily played through or over the visitor’s press.

“I think, when we go into this game, it, it’s gonna take everything,” Guzan said. “Soccer-wise mentality, the physicality, it’s going to take everything. And our job is to go out and give everything we have to make sure that after 90-plus minutes, we walk out of that stadium with, or hopefully with, three points. We’ve given everything that we’ve (got). And so we need to make sure that we’re willing to sacrifice it and give everything because when we played on the first time, we we weren’t there.”

Pineda and Guzan seemed more confident about Atlanta United’s chances. In addition to the support of the home team, Atlanta United has also added a few players that it didn’t have when the teams met in the Leagues Cup on July 25.

That groups includes central midfielder Tristan Muyumba, who will be one of those tasked with trying to stay with Messi, and wingers Xande Silva and Saba Lobjanidze. The latter has scored two goals in two appearances with Atlanta United.

While they aren’t the level of Messi, Sergio Busquets or Jordi Alba, two more signings made by Miami and who also played at Barcelona, the new players fit well into what Atlanta United wants to do. And, they bring more than 500 matches of experience playing in Europe. They won’t be awed by the circumstances or the opponent.

All the ingredients are there.

“Saturday has the chance to be one of those moments that, you know, after X-amount of weeks down the road, we look back and say, ‘Oh, that Miami game at home was a was a big night for us,’” Guzan said. “And so that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1

March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1

March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0

March 18 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1

March 25 Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1

April 1 Atlanta United 1, New York Red Bulls 0

April 8 Atlanta United 1, New York City FC 1

April 15 Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2

April 23 Atlanta United 2, Chicago 1

April 29 Nashville SC 3, Atlanta United 1

May 6 Inter Miami CF 2, Atlanta United 1

May 13 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 1

May 17 Atlanta United 4, Colorado 0

May 20 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 3

May 27 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

May 31 Atlanta United 3, New England 3

June 7 Atlanta United 0, LAFC 0

June 10 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 1

June 21 Atlanta United 2, New York City 2

June 24 New York Red Bulls 4, Atlanta United 0

July 2 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 0

July 8 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

July 12 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

July 15 Orlando City 2, Atlanta United 1

July 25 Miami 4, Atlanta United 0 in Leagues Cup

July 29 Cruz Azul 1 (5), Atlanta United (4) 1 in Leagues Cup

Aug. 20 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 0

Aug. 26 Atlanta United 4, Nashville 0

Aug. 30 Cincinnati 2, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 2 Atlanta United 2, FC Dallas 2

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 5 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA