Atlanta United’s wingers will be tested against Columbus on Saturday.
With a combined five goals and three assists by Caleb Wiley and Luiz Araujo, can they continue to produce without Thiago Almada in the middle running the offense and without Giorgos Giakoumakis at striker creating space with his unending runs?
If they can, Atlanta United has a good chance of extending its franchise-best start (3-0-1) to its MLS season.
Manager Gonzalo Pineda, as expected, thinks so.
“What we always talk about, the signature of this team has to be the togetherness and the team effort, the team determination, the team mentality,” he said. “So in that sense, yes, we’re going to miss some guys. But whoever comes on the field has to try at the best of his ability to replace the roles that we have for every position.”
So, if he’s right, the machine that scored eight goals in the past two games should keep rolling.
Atlanta United has played without Giakoumakis, who made his first start Saturday in a 5-1 win against Portland at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Miguel Berry started the previous two games. So, Berry, Araujo and Wiley are familiar with each other. Wiley scored two goals and had an assist in Berry’s most-recent start, a 3-0 win at Charlotte on March 11.
Berry, who was acquired in a trade with D.C. United just before the season, said he’s learning more about his new teammates every week.
“I think it’s exciting to see it, and we’re putting the pieces together, I think, just really building relationships with the guys,” Berry said.
They haven’t played without Almada, who leads the league in goals (4), assists (4) and key passes (13).
Pineda said the players who replace them will have clearly defined roles and tactics to execute. Pineda also stressed that everything is connected. The space that Araujo and Wiley produce for Almada, or whomever will play as the attacking midfielder, will help him. In turn, that gives him more time to look for Araujo, Wiley and others players who get forward.
But defeating the Crew may be the result of the moments that Araujo and Wiley keep producing.
Pineda said that Araujo seemed happier during the preseason than last season. Araujo has two goals and an assist after dominating opponents during the preseason, when he said he wanted to show his talent.
“I think he’s one of those players that he needs to feel happy, strong, powerful, reliant in his physicality to produce what he’s been producing for us,” Pineda said. “And, and we are here to help him as well to maintain that level of confidence and belief in himself. We feel like he can be one of the best players in MLS for sure. And he’s been proving that I think, what everything comes from his happiness.”
Wiley’s production – three goals and two assists in the past two games – is a result of increasing confidence, according to Pineda.
And Pineda said there’s more to come.
“I still see that there’s a little bit more that he can provide to the team if he believes in himself completely,” Pineda said. “And once he started to get in a better rhythm and scoring and impacting the game in the final third, I hope he can give us even more.”
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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 at Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.
April 1 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.
April 8 at New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.
April 15 at Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.
April 23 vs. Chicago Fire FC, 4:30 p.m., FS1
April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox
May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.
May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.
May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.
May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.
May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.
May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1
June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.
June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.
June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.
June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.
July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox
July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.
July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.
July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1
Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 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
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