The Atlanta United may have found their heir apparent to current veteran goalkeeper, Brad Guzman, as the United have signed rising Jewish goalie Josh Cohen.
On Dec. 14, Atlanta made its first marquee move in free agency by signing Cohen after the 31-year-old native of Mountain View, California, helped propel Maccabi Haifa to a trio of Israeli Premier League titles while also being named Footballer of the Year following the 2020-21 season. The contract runs through the 2025 MLS season with an option for 2026. Atlanta initially reached out to Cohen back in 2022; however, he soon got injured while playing in Haifa and the preliminary contract talks stalled before resuming this past summer.
“Josh is someone with a unique career path who has backed himself at every step of his journey,” Atlanta United Vice President and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra said in a team-issued press release. “He has shown the ability to compete at the highest level in the UEFA Europa League and Champions League. We are pleased to welcome Josh to the club and look forward to him coming in and competing within our goalkeeping group.”
It is uncertain when Cohen will assume starting duties for an Atlanta United team that looks to build on securing last season’s Eastern Conference’s No. 6 seed in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs; it is certain, however, that Atlanta is getting a player who has delivered on the international stage. After goaltending for Sacramento Republic in the USL Championship from 2018-2019, Cohen played in 161 matches across all competitions for Maccabi Haifa, a four-year span that included not just the three Israeli Premier League championships but also appearances in the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 UEFA Champions League playoffs.
Wins and accolades aside, the Maccabi Haifa experience marked an unforgettable chapter of his soccer journey simply because of his new homeland – one in which, most notably among other unique features, random strangers would openly invite him into their homes for festive meals.
“My time in Israel was pretty amazing,” explained Cohen when speaking to the AJT while trying to settle into his new apartment in Atlanta and get familiar with, among other areas, East Cobb, Sandy Springs, Grant Park, and Midtown through running errands. “It was very much a bit of a culture shock at first. I had been to Israel as a teenager, visited with my family on vacation but never actually lived there.
“There’s so much unknown and it’s trying to expand your comfort zone because there’s so much that’s new that’s outside of your comfort zone. Being a little uncomfortable at first and slowly expanding that comfort zone. It [Israel] was really an experience that I think for me just broadened my horizons a lot. I knew a little bit of what to expect but I never really lived it. I like to think that I’m much more comfortable being open to new experiences, trying new things, and being willing to expand my comfort zone.”
Now, Atlanta represents a step outside his comfort zone. While living stateside, Cohen primarily resided in California (he would return home for at most three weeks when he was playing in Israel) and, other than a quick layover at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, never set foot in his current hometown.
It [Israel] was really an experience that I think for me just broadened my horizons a lot. I knew a little bit of what to expect but I never really lived it. I like to think that I’m much more comfortable being open to new experiences, trying new things, and being willing to expand my comfort zone.
When he arrived during the holiday season, one of his first real touristy activities was checking out an Atlanta Falcons game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The venue, which of course will double as his new soccer home later this spring, did not disappoint.
“It’s exciting to be here in Atlanta. Super nice stadium,” remarked Cohen, whose first MBS experience on Dec. 24 (Atlanta coasted to a 29-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts) marked the Falcons’ final victory of 2023.
“I really liked how there were seemingly a bunch of local food options within the stadium. That was really cool. I walked around about half the stadium just looking at the different food options. They had everything from burritos to a hibachi grill type place and then your standard stadium fare.
“The stadium’s really nice. You can tell that it’s new and modern and really well set up.”
Cohen would know. As an ever-diligent student-athlete who studied mechanical engineering at the University of California, San Diego, Cohen aspired to follow in the footsteps of his parents, both retired engineers. But it was also at UC San Diego that Cohen started 52 games over his four-year collegiate run, during which he posted 22 individual shutouts, good for third-most in program history, and started contemplating playing Major League Soccer. A decade later, those lofty plans have come to fruition.
“I always view soccer as my first career and I want to do it as long as I’m able to do it at the level that I want to,” reasoned Cohen, who has maintained many contacts in the tech world for when the day comes that pro soccer is no longer a feasible option. “My second career will be some form of engineering, at least that’s my plan, because that’s something that I do also enjoy. It’s something that I’ve tried to at least a little bit, keep up with, trying to read things here and there so I don’t entirely lose that skill set.”
But for now, the focus is on the 2024 MLS regular season, which for Cohen and his United teammates kicks off on Feb. 24 against the reigning MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew; two weeks later is their home opener against the New England Revolution on March 9.