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Signal Intel: Swashbuckling United to keep on keepin’ on against the Fire

Talking expectations, defenders and Balkan racketeers with Haris Kruskic of The Dirty South

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Atlanta United FC
Alec Kann whacks a goal kick in front of a crowd the size of roughly four (4) Toyota Park crowds. THIRTY-THREE THOUSAND season tickets. 33. Thousand.
Let that sink in. 33 thousand. Now look at that roster, their $60MM training facility. Think soccer is undersold in Chicago?
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In advance of today’s Fire game in Atlanta, we spoke with Haris Kruskic of The Dirty South, our SB Nation sister-blog for Atlanta United. Dig:

Hot Time: The first two weeks have been rousing ones for Atlanta United's huge, new fanbase, with swashbuckling football on display and ballyhooed talent living up to its billing. How good do y'all think this team is?

The Dirty South: 2017 MLS Cup Champions, no question about it.

In all seriousness though, Atlanta United supporters can't help but be overly excited for what we've seen from not only the team early on in the season, but the front office's approach to building this franchise. We've been told for the better part of a year now not to get our hopes up simply because we're an expansion side and MLS is a different animal.

However, a couple weeks ago we at Dirty South Soccer decided to compile a list of predictions on how top soccer writers from across the country thought Atlanta would do their first season. We wanted to know if it was crazy to think Atlanta could make a major impact their inaugural season. The results of the research were pretty telling. Nine of the eleven predictions had Atlanta advancing to the playoffs, one placing us as high as 2nd in the East. It was nice to see non-partisans expecting a great season from us our first year.

Then, you look at the other side of the spectrum where certain writers had Atlanta finishing second to last in the East. Perhaps this is more telling of the parity that comes with MLS than anything else. How can one professional writer think a team will finish 2nd in the East and another think they'll finish 10th? I guess that's the unpredictability of an expansion side.

So, to directly answer your question, we think Atlanta United will be pretty darn good and others seem to think so as well. Obviously it's still early to really gauge this club considering our only win has come against a glorified NASL squad. One things for certain though, we're going to be entertaining to watch.

HT: Atlanta's high-wire football asks a lot of its central defenders - how would you characterize the growing relationship in central defense between Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez?

TDS: The centerback pairing has been good so far. The Red Bulls and Minnesota United preferred to exploit the wings rather than play through the middle of the park to trigger their attacks, so it'll be interesting to see how Dax McCarty and Juninho change that on Saturday.

Pirez, in my opinion, will be considered one of the better defenders in MLS by the end of the season. His timing on tackles is great, but his ability to pass from the back to release attackers is what really makes him special. He's perfect for a Tata Martino system.

Parkhurst is exactly what one would expect from an MLS veteran: solid, steady, and doesn't force anything.

It's always going to be a work in progress between two centerbacks that have never played together before, but they're off to a good start.

HT: Thought experiment: Through a series of transfer misadventures, Carlos Bocanegra winds up owing Balkan gangsters either 1) 20 kilograms of cocaine, or 2) the rights for either Miguel Almiron or Josef Martinez transferred for $10MM to a club they control in Serie A. Charlie Blackmouth is fresh outta coke, so it's Almiron or Martinez - who do you sell?

TDS: I'm originally from Bosnia, so these Balkan gangsters really hit home for me. I tried calling Charlie Blackmouth earlier today, but his phone seems to have disconnected. That's weird.

If this gangster held a gun to my head, which is quite plausible, I would probably be forced to sell Martinez. He's quite the exciting talent, but goalscorers can be found elsewhere. An attacking midfielder with the kind of creativity and production that Almiron offers is hard to come by, especially in MLS. I mean, Arsenal and Chelsea were chasing his signature last season for goodness sake. If that doesn't tell you about the level of quality Almiron brings to this league, I don't know what will.

Hopefully Carlos Bocanegra can get his act together. I knew some of these transfers were too good to be true.

Atlanta’s predicted lineup (and discussion of same!) can be found here, or if you’re not a click-through kind of person (and we here in click-land curse you, non-click-through person), they’re guessing exactly the same lineup as opening day: (4-2-3-1) Kann; Garza, Pirez, Parkhurst, Mears; Carmona, Gressel; Asad, Almiron, Villalba; Martinez.

[EDIT: Seriously, if you’re in Atlanta and have some time to kill, spend some time reading The Dirty South. This community is in the middle of falling madly in love with football, and it’s kinda beautiful.]