Board in the USA 22: Threepeat
This is it. The last season update you will get to read about Atlanta United, with the immensely partnership of Avery and Theiler, creating a dynasty. Let’s skip the pleasantries and see how we did.
North American Champions League 2020
For those paying attention, we breezed through the NACL group stages, finishing at the top of the group. The difficulty lay in actually winning the thing in the elimination stages. With the strong Mexican teams in the mix (who are definitely superior to MLS fare), the NACL is definitely no pushover.
The difficulty with MLS teams taking part in NACL lay in the scheduling. The group stages of NACL 2020 will occur in the latter half of the 2019 season, and the break rounds will occur in the first half of the 2020 season. Unfortunately, because the MLS season ends in December 2019, it is highly likely that you will not have a match-fit squad heading into the first leg of the quarter-final in January 2020. This was certainly the case with Atlanta United in our Quarter-Final tie against Monterrey.
The away tie was, of course, very difficult for our team. We left with our head between our legs, being down two goals against a very capable team. Things looked grim.
Somehow Theiler pulls a miracle out of his hat with a 4-2-4 formation in the home tie. We roared back with a 3-1 victory, leading eventually to a win on penalties. Ironically, the player who missed his penalty from Monterrey was the one who Gustavo Lopez, who had demolished us in the first leg of the tie. Take that for karma!
We faced Cruz Azul in the following round.
Unfortunately they were far too good for us. We got crushed by them in a 2-0 away defeat, and only managed a 2-2 draw at home when Theiler decided to just play hard for the win.
As such, our NACL run came to an end in the Semifinal. While it was slightly disappointing, them Mexican teams really are a handful. It’ll take a stronger squad on Atlanta’s end in order to ensure a consistent run of victories in the NACL.
The US Open Cup
The US Open Cup was a trophy that we had won for 2 years running, and we sought to keep that streak going. We had a decent run through the early rounds where we crushed non-MLS opposition. From the 5th round onwards, however, we honestly scraped our way through.
Unfortunately our run ended against Sporting Kansas City in a 1-0 defeat. Although the loss came in a heartbreaker last-minute goal from Diego Rubio, we thoroughly deserved that loss, having underperformed the entire game.
While it was largely disappointing not to retain the US Open Cup, it is somewhat unlikely that a team could retain a single-elimination cup multiple years in a row. Furthermore, since the US Open Cup was not a big competition in the eyes of the board, it did not unduly affect my standing with them. No harm no foul, and we move on with our season.
At last, the Big Daddy of MLS Competitions is here. We stomped our way through the regular season, setting a new MLS record of 72 points from 34 regular season games.
Although injuries to certain key players came back to haunt us again (Almiron was out for several months), we managed to do even better than the year before with the same squad. Dan Garza really held his own as the replacement for Opara at centre-back, averaging a 7.18 rating over 44 games. Frank Bendik, my to-be centre-back superstar who was courted heavily by other MLS teams, managed to start 12 games with an average rating of 7.30.
The pleasant surprise for this season was the gametime my other young backup players received. All my 1st round picks since 2017, like Thomas Noto, Arturo Smith, and the like, got to play at least 10 games. It was really helping their development to become the role players that they had become. While they were not (and are unlikely to ever reach) the superstar levels that Manuel Robledo and Greg Coyne had reached, they were doing well in their positions as role players working for minimum salary.
But enough talk about player growth and all that. We here to win another title!
The Eastern Conference Semifinal was against New York Red Bulls. I wasn’t particularly worried since we stomped them in the league. But of course, playoffs football might be a whole different story.
Of course, my arrogance was not unfounded. We demolished them over two legs, with a professional 1-1 draw away, and a ruddy good whipping at home. The real surprise was Theiler starting Lois Solignac, who had a wonderful game in the return leg. I’m glad our boy on the bench still earns his wage with some goals from time to time. On to the Finals!
We easily pushed Orlando aside again. A pattern seems to be emerging – Theiler will head into away games playing safe, so that we can bring the game back and smash them at home. Important goals from my important players seal the deal in the Final.
And now, we arrive with relative ease at the MLS Cup Final once again. And for the third year running, we face our perpetual nemesis.
With Shinji Okazaki having moved to New York Red Bulls, their lineup is slightly less scary than before. I had complete faith in Theiler to deliver us the goods for the third year running.
We did it! Although it was a nervy game with chances for both sides, we managed to seal it in extra time. This gave us the double, and the MLS Cup for the third year running. Theiler won Coach of the Year for the 2nd time in 3 years, and Scott Caldwell miraculously won the USA Player of the Year for his exploits with us in the centre of midfield.
This wraps up the 22nd update, and all of the seasons I plan to write about for Board in the USA. However, we have one final recap update lineup; the update where I go through all the lessons I’ve learnt in my 4 seasons with Atlanta United. Do stick around for the grand finale. As always, you can find me on FMSlack @avery, or on Twitter @avery1822. For the last time, stay tuned!