The start of Major League Soccer's 22nd season was highlighted by the official move to a 22-club league, as Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC each played their first MLS match earlier this month. On Saturday, the Chicago Fire get their first up-close look at their fellow Eastern Conference foe when they travel south to square off with Atlanta United FC. The match kicks off at 3 p.m. CT and airs live on UniMás, with a Facebook Live stream also available on the Univision Deportes Facebook page.
Ahead of the game, get caught up on one of MLS' two newest clubs below:
After a lengthy bid process, Atlanta was confirmed as a future expansion city for MLS back on April 16, 2014, and 15 months later the club had both a definitive name and badge. According to the club, the circular logo is inspired by Atlanta's city seal and Olympic heritage, while the five stripes are representative of five key values: unity, determination, community, excellence and innovation. And within just a few months of establishing an identity, Atlanta United announced the launch of its Academy program well before its first team debuted in MLS, ultimately signing a pair of 16-year-old Homegrowns last October.
For this one we'll turn it over to Chicago Fire rookie midfielder Daniel Johnson, a native of Atlanta suburb Duluth, Ga.:
"It's incredible. Growing up there, then growing off to college, you come back and now I have a group text with 40 or 50 kids in my phone who rent out an indoor facility for their last time slot, around midnight, and play until you can't anymore. It's a microcosm for soccer culture in Atlanta as a whole. The city was ready for a team, the youth soccer is great and people just love the game. Growing up there and now seeing them have a team is really cool. But being an opponent this weekend -- I'm not much of an Atlanta boy but I'll be excited to be back."
Atlanta United FC President Darren Eales and Technical Director (and four-year member of the Men In Red) Carlos Bocanegra turned some heads in and around the soccer world last September when they announced the hiring of Gerardo "Tata" Martino. The Argentine boss made his name as a coach when he led Paraguay to the 2010 World Cup quarterfinals and went on to lead Newell's Old Boys (Argentina), Barcelona and eventually the Argentine national team (2014-16).
The new leadership team in Atlanta went about assembling a squad that was notable for its impressive mix of young, high-end attacking talent, promising youth and well-traveled MLS veterans who could help teach newcomers what the league is all about. Miguel Almíron (Paraguay), Hector Villalba (Argentina) and current MLS Player of the Week Josef Martinez (Venezuela) all are 23 years old or younger and bring an obvious dynamism to the attack, with Premier League veteran Kenwyne Jones also a threat in front of goal in his debut MLS campaign. At the other end of the spectrum, defenders Michael Parkhurst, Zach Loyd, and Tyrone Mears along with former Fire captain Jeff Larentowicz and former Fire goalkeeper Alec Kann provide invaluable experience and know-how when it comes to thriving in MLS.
Atlanta United FC played its first-ever MLS game at Bobby Dodd Stadium on the campus of Georgia Tech, where the club will host all home matches pending the completion of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the future home of both Atlanta United FC and the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. The club's debut match in its new digs is set for Sunday, July 30 against Orlando City SC.
Gerardo Martino and his club looked poised to ride the tidal wave of fan excitement to three points in their opening match against the New York Red Bulls, going in front 1-0 on a Yamil Asad goal and keeping its advantage well into the second half. But the visitors rallied for two goals within six minutes to dampen the party and leave Bobby Dodd Stadium with a 2-1 victory. Undeterred, Atlanta United FC went on the road to snowy Minnesota for an all-expansion clash in week two, dropping six goals on their hosts -- with a hat trick by Josef Martinez -- for the club's first-ever MLS win.