Tonight kicks off a new era for Atlanta United FC. The MLS side won the MLS Cup final just over two months ago in only their second season. As they turn the page to their third season, there is plenty to be played for. One of the biggest questions surrounding the team and its fans is what should the priorities for this team look like? Let’s dive in to what is on the line this year and try to think through how the team should rank the potential hardware up for grabs.
The most recent prize won by the Five Stripes is on the list once again this year. Winning MLS Cup means you get to claim your spot as “best in the league.” You get another star above the crest. If Atlanta can hoist the cup again this season, they will become the fourth team in MLS history to win back-to-back championships; the others being DC United (96-97), Houston Dynamo (06-07), and LA Galaxy (11-12). They would also become only the sixth team with multiple league championships.
Eastern Conference Championship
Last year, the eastern conference looked to be the stronger grouping within MLS. If winning MLS Cup was out of the question, certainly some fans would love to see the team continue to stake claim to their place at the top of the conference. This would lead to a repeat trip to MLS Cup, and possibly a second year hosting the match.
CONCACAF Champions League
Atlanta earned their way into this tournament, by way of winning MLS Cup, and is one of only five MLS teams competing against the best club teams in the region. From day one, the front office has expressed a desire to become a worldwide brand and winning this tournament would be a major step in that direction.
No MLS team has ever won this tournament. If Atlanta wants to continue their trailblazing ways, no doubt this competition will be a high priority. On top of all those reasons, the winner of this tournament gains entry into the Club World Cup and will be pitted against the biggest teams in the world.
US Open Cup
The Open Cup is the oldest ongoing soccer competition in the US. It is a tournament that features teams from nearly every level of soccer in this country. Atlanta has bowed out early in their first two years competing in this tournament because it has not seemed to be a top priority for them.
Now that the team has an MLS Cup in the trophy case, will they put more of an emphasis on this competition? How will new coach Frank de Boer prioritize the Open Cup?
This new competition features the MLS Cup champion facing off against the winner of Liga MX. This will only be the second year of the Cup’s existence and last year saw Toronto FC go down at the hands of Tigres. While we do not know the opponent, we know that this matchup will take place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on August 14. How will Atlanta prioritize the chance to be the first MLS team to win this newer competition?
Atlanta was one bad final match day from winning the award for the best regular season team last year. No doubt that left the team with a bad taste in their mouths that may have fueled their run to the championship in the post-season. Does narrowly missing our on this honor last year give them the fire to chase after it full-steam this season?
How should Atlanta approach the season?
One thing to remember when considering how this team will approach the season is that MLS has changed the post-season schedule and season calendar making this season the most condensed in history. There will be more fatigue and necessary rotation, especially with the added competitions this year. That being said, here is how I think Atlanta United should prioritize the 2019 season:
- CONCACAF Champions League (and if they win CCL, Club World Cup)
- MLS Cup
- Supporter’s Shield
- US Open Cup
- Campeones Cup
- Eastern Conference Championship
If the team is serious about becoming a global brand, it starts with CCL and Club World Cup. Winning another MLS Cup would not only establish your league dominance, but also put you back into CCL for 2020. Supporters’ Shield and USOC also give you a berth into CCL for 2020, but I think Supporters’ Shield is probably the more desirable trophy at the moment. Campeones Cup is another, although on a much smaller scale, chance to expand that global brand. The Eastern Conference Championship is great, but put up against the other things on the list, I think it brings the least to the table. Not to mention you would win it by proxy if you win MLS Cup.
So what do you think? What should Atlanta’s priorities be this season in your mind?