Atlanta United will resume its MLS schedule with a block of six games featuring two of the league’s worst teams and one of its best based upon this season’s results.
The Five Stripes’ next six games will be a series of home-and-homes with Nashville and Miami, expansion sides that have struggled this season, and Orlando. Supporters won’t be allowed into Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the three home games in this first block of the schedule. The season is expected to be a total of 23 games, compared to 34 the previous seasons. The league is expected to announce the remaining 12 games by early September.
Atlanta United, which lost its three games in the Orlando tournament by identical 1-0 scores and hasn’t netted a goal in almost 400 minutes, will resume play hosting Nashville on Aug. 22. It will play at Nashville on Sept. 12. Nashville, featuring Lawrenceville native Walker Zimmerman, is 0-2-0 this season. It didn’t get to participate in the MLS tournament in Orlando because too many of its players tested positive for COVID-19. Atlanta United defeated Nashville 2-1 in the season-opening game in late February. It was against Nashville that Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez sustained a season-ending torn ACL in his right knee.
The game against Nashville will be the first for interim manager Stephen Glass, who replaced Frank de Boer, as well as new signings Jurgen Damm, striker Erick Torres and possibly striker Erik Lopez.
Atlanta United will play at Miami, which includes former Atlanta United players Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Mikey Ambrose and Brek Shea, on Aug. 26 in the teams’ first meeting. It will host Miami on Sept. 2. Kickoff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m. Miami, led by former Atlanta United director Paul McDonough, is 0-5-0 this season with a goal difference of minus-5.
Atlanta United is scheduled to host Orlando on Aug. 29 at 3:30 p.m. It will play at Orlando on Sept. 6. The Lions, led by Nani and new manager Oscar Pareja, are 2-1-2 this season and on Tuesday will compete for the championship of the MLS tournament. Orlando has yet to defeat Atlanta United in eight regular season meetings (0-6-2).
Decision Day, the final game of the regular season, will be Nov. 8. The playoffs will be Nov. 20 and the MLS Cup is scheduled for Dec. 12. Eighteen teams, an increase of four compared to last season, will qualify for the playoffs: ten from the East and eight from the West. The East will feature two play-in games.
Teams will continue to follow protocols to try to minimize the chances of COVID-19. Teams will take chartered flights to and from road games. Teams typically will arrive for road games on match day and will depart after the game. According to MLS, “All players, technical staff, and essential club staff will be tested every other day, including the day before each match day. Also, guidelines will be provided to players, coaches and essential staff to avoid the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 during their time away from club facilities.”
“We believe we have a good plan,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.
While MLS succeeded in its bubble, with the league reporting zero positive tests among players and staff from the 24 teams that competed in the past 28 days, other leagues playing outside of bubbles haven’t had the same success. Numerous players in Major League Baseball and the United Soccer League have tested positive, resulting in the postponement of games.
Garber was asked repeatedly during a press conference on Saturday why the league has chosen to only resume in local markets, but to do so in some cases with supporters allowed to attend games in some markets when allowed by local governments.
“Playing games with fans in attendance is a step toward what the new normal in sports is going to be,” Garber said.
Garber said that should there be positive cases among players or staff, the league will act accordingly, which can include the postponement or cancellation of matches. If there are points inequalities because of a difference in the number of games played, Garber said the playoff spots may be determined by points-per-match averages.
“If we have issues we will deal with them,” he said.
Atlanta United schedule
(After these six games, the team is expected to play 12 more)
Aug. 22 vs. Nashville, 7 p.m., Fox Sports South
Aug. 26 at Miami, 8 p.m., Fox Sports South
Aug. 29 vs. Orlando, 3:30 p.m., Univision
Sept. 2 vs. Miami, 7 p.m., FS1
Sept. 6 at Orlando, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports South
Sept. 12 at Nashville, 8:30 p.m. Fox Sports South
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