The list of MLS offensive juggernauts includes the 1998 and 2014 L.A. Galaxy teams, D.C. United in 1998 when apparently defenses weren’t very defensive and the Toronto squad that won the MLS Cup this season.
With the addition of versatile midfielder Darlington Nagbe, and the rumored acquisition of Ezequiel Barco joining striker Josef Martinez, attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron and midfielders Hector Villalba and Julian Gressel, the 2018 Atlanta United squad has the potential to become one of the best net-rippers in league history, even better than last season, when the team scored the fifth-most goals in league history.
In its inaugural season, with less than two months to practice and learn about each other, manager Gerardo Martino was able to mold a team that scored 70 goals, second-most in the league, with a payroll that wasn’t among the five largest.
“I think Atlanta has very quickly made themselves into something that is must-see,” Fox Sports analyst Alexi Lalas said. “Can’t rest on your laurels. By this deal (for Nagbe) and more they have once again announced their presence and ambition and with decisions they are making.”
The team did that with Martinez, who finished with 19 goals, missing almost half the season because of a thigh injury.
They did that despite having to switch home stadiums two-thirds into the season.
They did that despite having to play eight games in 24 days, during which near the end the players were clearly exhausted and not able to play the same style and tactics, at the same speed and with the same ruthlessness that at times overwhelmed opponents such as in the 6-1 win at Minnesota United, 4-0 over Chicago or 7-0 victory over New England.
With another year of chemistry, the return of most key pieces and the additions of Nagbe, with his ability to possess the ball and move in tight space, and potentially the 18-year-old Barco, one of the world’s most exciting young players, it seems the league record of 85 goals could be broken.
“If Atlanta does it, they will do it a little bit differently,” MLSsoccer.com senior writer Matthew Doyle said.
Most of Atlanta United’s goals typically came in the same manner: forcing a turnover followed by a quick counter-attack, happening in less time than it takes to dismiss a Twitter rumor about yet another player tied to Atlanta United. The team did score a few set-piece goals, but not many. The team did score a few goals, but not many, by breaking down opponents in “half-court sets” when defenses were seemingly set, but not many.
That was its style.
Most of the best scoring teams had a style.
The 1998 Galaxy team that set the goals record feasted on weaker teams, which could also be said of Atlanta United. The 1998 D.C. United team featured a quartet of Jaime Moreno, Marco Etcheverry, Roy Lassiter and John Harkes that contributed to the team’s 74 goals. Atlanta United also had a scoring quartet. The 2014 L.A. Galaxy squad scored 69 goals, not among the top five, but was highlighted by the symbiotic partnership between Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, who combined to score 29 goals and notch 33 assists. Toronto could score in a variety of ways: free-kicks by Sebastian Giovinco, as Atlanta United saw in the regular-season finale, the strength of Jozy Altidore and the vision of Victor Vazquez finding either of them in work-able spaces.
“It looks pretty nice on paper,” Doyle said of Atlanta United’s attack. “It compares pretty well with what Toronto FC had this last year. Atlanta United is younger, more explosive. Toronto, they have guys who can dig out goals, that’s why they are the champs.”
ESPN’s Taylor Twellman said that Atlanta United has the potential to be one of the most talented in league history.
But he thinks they may be remembered for more than just the numbers of goals scored or style of play.
“I think 2017 and 2018 Atlanta United, 20 years down the road, that’s what changed how MLS rosters were constructed,” he said. “That’s where I think their historical value will be placed.”
Most goals scored in MLS history
1. 1998 L.A. Galaxy, 85
t-2. 2017 Toronto, 74
t-2. 1998 D.C. United, 74
4. 2012 San Jose, 72
t-5. 2017 Atlanta United, 70
t-5. 1997 D.C. United, 70