The Oppo: Atlanta United 2
Challenges remain for the team from Kennesaw
UPDATE (4/22/21): Just two days after we published this post, the University of South Carolina announced that they have hired Tony Annan as head coach. This leaves Atlanta in a deep coaching hole.
In this edition of The Oppo we get a bit closer to home and take a look at Atlanta United 2, another divisional opponent and another baby brother to an MLS team.
Atlanta United 2, known in Atlanta as the 2s, and elsewhere as Twonited, came about quickly after the MLS team completed its rookie season in 2017 and played its first USL Championship season in 2018. Atlanta already had a well-established academy program so adding a USL affiliate was a fairly easy matter.
As with many MLS “reserve” USL teams, Atlanta United 2 is not truly designed to be successful in its own right. In its 3 seasons to date the club has yet to qualify for the playoffs, finishing 14th in the Eastern Conference in 2018 and 2019, and dead last in Group H last year, winning just 3 games all season, although two of those were in the last five games.
Twonited has had some issues at head coach, although not of its own making. The first was Scott Donnelly, who left to become a US scout for Manchester United, and the second was Scotsman Stephen Glass. Glass took over the MLS team on an interim basis in July 2020 after head coach Frank de Boer was fired. The job was taken over by Englishman Tony Annan, who had up to that point been, and still is, Atlanta’s academy director. Glass moved back to the USL team when Gabriel Heinze was hired, but in March 2021 accepted the manager position at his former club Aberdeen (which also has an affiliation arrangement with Atlanta United). He has yet to be replaced, although Tony Annan still holds an assistant position with the team.
This is obviously going to change soon, but Atlanta United 2’s official roster has just ten names on it right now. Their problem of course is promotions. One of their top scorers from 2020 (Jackson Conway) is now with the MLS squad, as is Efrain Morales who joined the team in late 2020.
That doesn’t mean the team is without some strengths. The biggest is perhaps their goalkeeper, US-born Argentinian Rocco Rios Novo. He played the second half of the first game in the friendly at Birmingham, so Legion fans did get a look at him. He then became an international celebrity by being added to the MLS squad as an emergency keeper ahead of the CONCACAF Champions League tie against LD Alajuense of Costa Rica. He took the field when Brad Guzan got a red card late in the first half of the first game, and proceeded to maintain a clean sheet through a game and a half. And he’s just 18.
Also on the squad are the Senegalese Diop brothers Amadou Macky and Abdoulaye. Amadou tied Conway for top scorer last season and should remain a threat. A slight mystery is Darwin Matheus, a Venezuelan forward who has joined the team for this season but is also likely to be strong player.
They had better hurry up and fill out their roster, because they play in the USL Championship’s first game this season. That’s this Saturday. And it will be a trial by fire: they travel to Louisville City. Then they get a break; in a scheduling quirk, they play both away games against OKC Energy back to back. From then on their schedule is fairly evenly spread out until September 15th, when they start a 6-game stretch over 18 days. Their non-divisional schedule isn’t too helpful either: they play away at the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Rio Grande Valley Toros, and host the Charleston Battery and Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Our first look at them will be May 30th in Kennesaw, Georgia.
Unless Rios Novo gets permanently promoted to the first team (he’s already had three straight 4-day contracts), Atlanta United 2 could be hard to score on. They also have firepower up front, but overall they are unlikely to be a contender. The odds are they will fail to make the playoffs for the fourth straight year. But that’s not really the purpose for their existence. There’s a reason their home (Fifth Third Bank Stadium) is known as the Proving Ground.
Final Grade: C-
A minimal passing grade is about fair. In their favor: they are not OKC Energy or Sporting Kansas City II.