What’s Changed At Atlanta United?

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Icon Sportswire via Getty ImagesAtlanta United didn’t have to change, and they certainly didn’t need to. The Major League Soccer club that first took to the field in 2017 have been one of the league’s success stories, and have paved the way for other teams to operate similarly.The club eschewed a common method of attracting fans: one which usually involves signing a big name player and marketing them as the main attraction. Instead Atlanta built an exciting, multicultural squad which reflected the city, and club president, Darren Eales, embarked on what he described as a “pub crawl” throughout the area to drum up support in the years between the club being founded in 2014, and kicking its first ball in MLS in 2017.Atlanta made some shrewd, outside the box signings from South America, such as Héctor Villalba, Miguel Almirón, and Leandro González Pírez, but the most important hire was that of its new coach.The club was guided through its first two seasons by former Barcelona head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who set the team up to play fast-paced attacking soccer which would entertain the fans, win or lose. The Argentine set the tone for the new club.ATLANTA, GA – DECEMBER 08: Head Coach Gerardo Martino takes a selfie with fans after he hammered in the spikes after the 2018 Audi MLS Cup Championship match between Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers at the Mercedes Benz Stadium on December 08,Corbis via Getty ImagesIn its short history Atlanta had forged one of the best playing styles in MLS, and it was easy for neutrals or new supporters to choose the Five Stripes as their MLS club. Soccer fans tuned in just to watch the football.It wasn’t possession for possession’s sake, but neither was it plodding pragmatism or looking to stop the opponent before starting themselves.It was a direct, attack-minded soccer which could still see them dominate possession against certain sides, but also saw them be lethal on the counter-attack against others depending how the game panned out, and the strengths and weaknesses of its opponents.But heading into the 2019 MLS season, the one thing Atlanta did have to change was its head coach. Martino left the club to manage the Mexico national team, having guided Atlanta to the MLS Cup in just its second season. The style had brought substance.Atlanta also lost Almirón to English Premier League side Newcastle United, but this use of the club as a stepping stone between South America and Europe felt like part of the plan—and a clever one at that.River Plate’s Copa Libertadores winner, Gonzalo “Pity” Martínez, though not a direct replacement for Almirón

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