2. Atlanta United
Atlanta United have finished fourth, second and second in the Eastern Conference during their brief three-year time in MLS. The 2018 champions looked primed to reach the final again last year but were upset 2-1 in the conference semi-finals by Toronto FC.
Atlanta took some time to warm up to new head coach Frank de Boer’s system last year, but once they did, they were back to their near-unstoppable ways. Goal-scoring still took a dip from 70 goals in 2018 to 58 in 2019, while defensively they were about the same, conceding one fewer goal in 2019 (43 vs 44), but their late-season form was much more encouraging than their early difficulties.
Atlanta lost just six times in MLS, with only two losses coming at the raucous Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Josef Martinez didn’t win the Golden Boot again, but he did score 27 times, good for third overall. Down the latter stages of the year, Martinez also went on an incredible run which saw him score 16 goals during a 12-match scoring streak. He will be in the running for the league’s top goalscorer once again.
While the Five Stripes didn’t win MLS Cup, they did collect their third trophy in a roughly nine-month period by winning both the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup in 2019. Barring no injuries to Martinez and some improvement from the likes of Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez, Atlanta should be in the hunt once again.
However, this team has seen a huge amount of turnover. All of Darlington Nagbe, Florentin Pogba, Julain Greseel, Hector Villalba, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, and Michael Parkhurst, to name a few, have departed. Atlanta’s key offseason acquisition comes in central midfielder Matteus Rossetto from Brazil’s Paranaense, though he’s yet to join the team as he awaits his P-1 Visa. Rossetto signed on a TAM deal and brings experience in both the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.
It’s too soon to know how they’ll adapt to the changes, but early returns are positive as they’re through to the CCL Quarterfinals after defeating Motagua in the Round of 16. Atlanta should still be among one of the East’s elite teams in 2020.