New York City Football Club face Atlanta United on Wednesday evening.
Hi Sydney, thanks for speaking with us. How long have you been covering Atlanta?
I've been covering Atlanta United since before a ball was kicked. I started with Dirty South Soccer, SB Nation's Atlanta United blog, at the end of 2015 and have been writing for them since. I also co-host the Scarves and Spikes podcast, which live-streams on YouTube weekly and is also available on podcatchers in audio form. In addition, I've been covering the league as a whole for MLSSoccer.com as a contributing writer since 2021.
What has been your highlight in that time?
The highlight has easily been MLS Cup 2018. I wasn't covering that one from the press box so I had a chance to watch from the stands, and it was breathtaking to see and hear the support from over 70,000 fans gathered at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It's a night I'll never forget. I can't forget to mention covering the inaugural match at Bobby Dodd Stadium in 2017, and although Atlanta ultimately lost, the atmosphere was fantastic and really laid the groundwork for what we've seen from a fan engagement standpoint.
What are your thoughts on the team’s start to the season?
It's been a bit of a roller-coaster. Atlanta got off to a fast start, but I think the most frustrating theme of 2023 is its inability to close out matches. Looking back at their season, if it's able to see a few winning results out, it'd find itself much higher in the standings. That's part of the reason they had drawn 4 times in a row before beating D.C. United on the 10th. That's not to say there have not been positives: Thiago Almada has shown MVP tendencies (he's dipped in form a little in past matches but had a strong 2nd half against D.C.) and Giorgos Giakoumakis has quickly proven to be a dynamic striker in his short time in MLS thus far.
What are your hopes for the 2023 season?
I think my hopes (and really, the hopes of many in the Atlanta United fanbase) would be getting to the playoffs and making a significant run. Giakoumakis and Almada will be very key to that, sure, and if those 2 can remain healthy and if Atlanta can add a few key pieces to its ranks during the transfer window, the sky really could be the limit. It'd be great if Atlanta can eventually position itself to grab "home-field advantage", so to speak, specifically as it pertains to hosting a possible conference semifinal and conference final with the new playoff format in place. I think the win against D.C. was a step in the right direction, but to truly achieve what it's looking for, taking advantage of the open DP slot that's available with Luiz Araujo's pending departure for Flamengo and building some depth could make this team dangerous down the stretch.
What do you think will be the deciding factor in Wednesday’s game?
The deciding factor is likely neither Giakoumakis nor Almada will be available (Almada because he'll be flying back from Asia after a pair of friendlies with Argentina, and Giakoumakis as he serves a suspension for yellow-card accumulation, but probably wasn't going to play anyway after appearing in a pair of Euro 2024 qualifiers for Greece). I think I'm keeping an eye on the wing play for Atlanta, and how they're able to provide service to whoever's filling Giakoumakis's spot up front (likely Miguel Berry). Midfield play will also be critical for Atlanta because that's also been a sore spot for the team throughout the season. All that said, it'll be missing some key players, so they'll be looking to pull the right strings against an NYCFC side hungry for a win.
And for anyone that may be in Atlanta for the game are there any spots you would suggest they check out?
I'd make it a point to stop by Fox Bros. BBQ. They have several locations in the Atlanta area, but the original one is located south of the Midtown/Downtown area. The founders are originally from Texas and it's a must for those that are looking to try authentic BBQ. Hattie B's, which is originally a Nashville-based chain, is a great spot for some hot chicken, and I'd offer that up as a recommendation too. I saw my guy Tyler brought up The Varsity in Midtown a few months back, and even though there may be a little mixed reaction from locals regarding the quality of the food, I'd recommend it for at least the novelty of visiting the largest drive-in restaurant in the world.
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