Sunday’s game brings two of MLS’ best offensive weapons to the fore. Since joining Sporting in 2018, Johnny Russell has scored 71 goals (40 goals, 31 assists), the third in that span. Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez has the most contributions in that span with a league-leading 70 goals added to his 11 assists for 81 goal contributions. Martinez is coming off a hamstring injury in 2021 but is looking to get back to his unparalleled goalscoring ways.
While Russell has been incredible for Sporting over the past four seasons, it was fellow winger Daniel Salloi who led the way last year. Salloï has scored 16 goals and added eight assists in 2021. Sporting’s wingers were key to Sporting’s success last season and will look to continue to build on that success in 2022.
While Sporting and Atlanta’s offenses are dangerous, their goaltenders have the potential to smother them. Tim Melia has been the crème de la crème of MLS goalkeepers since joining Sporting in 2015. He has seven consecutive 10-win seasons and is looking to become the first goalkeeper in league history to win double-digit games in eight consecutive seasons.
Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan joined the Five Stripes in 2017 after nine seasons in the British Premier League. Guzan was also capped 64 times by the United States Men’s National Team and twice named to the MLS All-Star Team. Keep an eye out for both Guardians as they try to cook up those fiery attacks.
3. Sporting success in road openers
For a fourth consecutive season, Sporting is starting the regular season away from home. Although the club was eager to find themselves in front of a raucous crowd at Children’s Mercy Park, they had success in road openings. Sporting have won back-to-back regular season openers on the road and have 10 road openers, the most in MLS. Sporting are looking to maintain the status quo and start the season on the right foot.
4. A busy offseason for both clubs
As mentioned above, this past offseason was the shortest in MLS history, 91 days to be exact. Despite this, both teams kept busy. Sporting have signed seven players addressing key issues from 2021. Head Coach and Sporting Director, Peter Vermes and the full technical staff have added defensive depth by signing Ben Sweat, Logan Ndenbe, Kortne Ford and Robert Voloder. sent midfielder Uri Rosell back to the club he won the 2013 MLS Cup with and bolstered the attack with wingers Marinos Tzionis and Nikola Vujnovic.
Atlanta’s offseason began with the loss of two defenders with a total of 133 games played for the club as Franco Escobar and Anton Walkes found themselves moving to other MLS teams. They then loaned Designated Player, Ezequiel Barco, to River Plate in Argentina. Using that open DP spot, they signed midfielder Thiago Almada to a record-breaking $16 million deal. Atlanta wrapped up the offseason by signing Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer.
5. Breaking the deadlock of the series
Since joining the league as an expansion team in 2017, Atlanta United have enjoyed great success. They have won an MLS Cup (2018), a Lamar Hunt US Open Cup (2019) and a Campeones Cup (2019) in the past five seasons. That being said, Sporting have gone toe to toe with Atlanta and the results are pretty even, with both teams posting a 1-1-1 record. The pair drew 1-1 on August 6, 2017, before Sporting handed Atlanta their first shutout loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium 2-0 on May 9, 2018. Atlanta had the last laugh in winning 3-0 in May. 5, 2019. Sunday’s game gives both teams the chance to break the deadlock.