For the first two-thirds of the 2021 season it appeared Atlanta United 2 was in with a shot at a playoff berth. Unfortunately for Head Coach Jack Collison and his young squad, the side faded down the stretch with only two wins in its final 12 games as Memphis 901 FC turned on the accelerator to become the Central Division’s first-time playoff participant.
That shouldn’t diminish what Atlanta accomplished last year, though, with the side taking notable victories, especially on its home turf at Fifth Third Bank Stadium. Among the teams to fall to Atlanta were perennial title contender Louisville City FC and playoff side FC Tulsa, and the squad also took a memorable 6-2 win against Indy Eleven. The group returns some of its key players, led by leading scorer from a season ago Aiden McFadden and leading assist man Robbie Mertz, while the young talent emerging from Atlanta United’s Academy will get a chance to take the next step forward. Among those, young Trinidad and Tobago international Ajani Fortune – now signed to his first pro deal – will be one to watch.
The big challenge for Atlanta in what is set to be its final season in the Championship is likely to be the depth of competition across the Eastern Conference. After competing in what ended up as arguably the weakest division last year, this campaign will see the side face a more consistently high level. Collison’s squad will have to step up again if it’s going to be as competitive as it proved a season ago.
Raimar Rodrigues Lopes – Brazilian 19-year-old arrives after competing previously for Athletico Paranaense in home country
Nelson Orji – Nigerian defender joins after competing most recently in Hungary
Nicolas Firmino – Former New England Revolution Homegrown signing was USL League One All-League selection in 2020
Chris Allan – English midfielder signed with Memphis 901 FC
Rocco Rios Novo – Argentine goalkeeper returned to Lanus following season on loan
Macky Diop – Senegalese forward signed with Birmingham Legion FC
Abdoulaye Diop – Senegalese midfielder signed with Detroit City FC
Robbie Mertz , Midfielder
Entering his second season in Atlanta, Robbie Mertz will look to build on a solid third professional campaign that saw him record a single-season best with five assists and 43 chances created after taking on a more attacking role with his new club than at Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. The 25-year-old will be a veteran head in the young Atlanta squad, having now made 70 regular season appearances in the Championship over his first three campaigns, and will likely want to boost his goal total after scoring just once a season ago.
Aiden McFadden, Midfielder
Aiden McFadden burst onto the scene in his first professional season after being selected by Atlanta United FC in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, recording eight goals and two assists despite playing much of the season as an attacking right back. That ability to get into the final third led to an impressive level of productivity with two assists and 33 key passes in 29 appearances. If McFadden can bump his defensive numbers up in Year 2, a chance at the MLS level could arrive sooner rather than later.
Jack Collison (2nd Season)
A Wales international as a player, Jack Collison took over as Atlanta United 2’s new Head Coach early in the 2021 season, a promotion from the club’s Academy system, and led the side to a 6-12-8 record under his stewardship. The 33-year-old will be hoping the experience in his side – including a player in Robbie Mertz that Collison says reminds me of his own playing style – can help the young talent in the group compete with the more experienced competition it will face in the Eastern Conference over this season.
8 Aiden McFadden’s eight goals in the 2021 regular season was the most individually by an Atlanta United 2 player in the USL Championship in the club’s short history. Atlanta will be hoping for one of its forwards to break through with double-digit goals this season to see if it can drive to a playoff place in its final season in the league.