After a miserable season opener at Houston last week, Atlanta United FC redeemed itself by breaking the “raccoon witch curse” and the fans proved once again that soccer is thriving in Georgia.
In 2017, ATLUTD could not manage to scrape together a draw against DC United, let alone a win and the “raccoon witch curse” was born. Those raccoons at RFK Stadium obviously performed some unholy magic that somehow allowed the second-worst team in the league last year to defeat ATLUTD all three times they met.
In our home opener for 2018, though, the tables turned. Coach Tata Martino made some adjustments to the formation (more on that in a bit) and ATLUTD wins 3-1, with goals from Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, and Tito Villalba. My friend (and Mouths of the South podcaster), Jay Riddle had a theory:
Tata: “You were the key, Asad. I told you by sending you to DC United we’d break the curse of the Raccoon Witch together. Your sacrifice is everything. They suspect nothing.” https://t.co/KVIPVcGr7a
ATLUTD played in a 3-5-2 formation this week (different from the usual 4-2-3-1) and Tata put Jeff Larentowicz (aka “Larry”) back as a defensive midfielder, Miggy back in at CM, and moved Greg Garza to left wing and Julian Gressel to right wing.
I’m usually a bit leery when Tata starts changing things around, but it was easy to see the guys had much better control this week. I was still nervous with only a 1-0 lead at the half, but then Miggy scored. And not even two minutes later, Tito scored (and I missed it because I was posting a picture of T.I. on the supporters stage to the MLSFemale IG story, which is how I got caught on ESPN, so there’s that).
Our old pal Yamil Asad may have scored DCU’s first goal of the season, but he wasn’t much help to them this weekend. Asad got some applause from the early fans when he walked into the stadium and hugged all of his former teammates when DCU came out for warmups, which nearly made me cry. However, he did have some trouble getting past Gressel and Franco Escobar on the right. The only goal for DCU was scored by Darren Mattocks, who slipped by Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and somehow managed to get a shot by Brad Guzan.
For a third time, ATLUTD broke the MLS single-game attendance record with 72,035 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday. The club also announced on Monday that they will open the full stadium for a fifth game (Oct 21 vs Chicago Fire, the final regular season game) this season. A friend of mine did the math and said this will bring us to just over 900,000 people at ATLUTD games in 2018. I’d like to see them open it up two more times (for a total of seven full-stadium games) so we can go over 1,000,000!
We set the bar high. But the 5-Stripes don’t stop.
In other news this week, Julian Gressel made the MLS Team of the Week (with Almiron on the bench), and Miggy’s goal is up for Goal of the Week. I think ATL fans broke MLS’s system last year, so now you can only vote once (instead of once per hour like last year).
This coming Saturday, 3/17, ATLUTD host the Vancouver Whitecaps, who have an impressive streak of 18 road games undefeated. Vancouver got the best of our boys last year, but so did DCU – until they came to the Benz, so we’ll see what Tata and the boys do this week. I’m not betting against my boys and the home crowd, though. 😉
Atlanta United‘s preseason was…not ideal. They managed a single win against soon-to-be MLS rival Nashville SC in some crazy weather conditions and then a loss (vs Columbus Crew) and two draws (MNUFC and USL side Charleston Battery) during the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, SC.
During the week between the final game in Charleston and our first regular season game at Houston, it was announced that our brand new toy, Ezequiel Barco, sustained a quad injury in training and would be out for 4-6 weeks. This brought back nightmares to the ATLUTD faithful, as Josef Martinez suffered a similar injury early in the 2017 season while playing for the Venezuelan national team.
Barco’s injury and the fact that Michael Parkhurst was still recovering from an injury forced coach Tata Martino to make some pretty big changes in the lineup for the Houston Dynamo game.
Miguel Almiron, who has made the most impact at central attacking midfielder was pushed out to the left to cover for Barco. 2017 MLS Rookie of the Year Julian Gressel was slotted in to replace Almiron, Chris McCann was added as a defensive midfielder, and Jeff Larentowicz was pushed back to center back to replace Parkhurst.
This was, however, our first regular-season lineup with offseason acquisition Darlington Nagbe in it. We saw some lovely things from him in the preseason, but this game didn’t go as well for him – or any of the midfielders or CBs, for that matter.
It pains me to say this, but Leandro Gonzalez Pirez probably played his worst game ever. He ended up with a yellow card (Despite saying he was trying to get fewer cards this year; not such a great start there, LGP) was subbed out late in the first half with a hip contusion.
Maybe he was still hungover from his birthday celebration earlier in the week? Or he was distracted by the fact that he’s going to be a first-time dad later this year? I don’t know what got into him, but he was not himself this weekend and while ATLUTD is reporting that he’s day-to-day (did not practice on Tuesday) with this hip contusion, he could easily be out for 1-2 weeks or more.
While our list of injured players grew longer, at least our defense managed to shore itself up in the second half of the game on Saturday. After giving up four goals (!!) to Houston in the first half, the second half was scoreless. This is the first time ATLUTD fans have been on this side of a score like that. And it was not fun. My social media timelines were not a pleasant place to be on Sunday.
Thankfully, it was just the first game of the season. We have 33 more games to go and I have faith that they’ll figure it out soon enough.
Here’s an interesting stat for folks who may want to overreact to some of the opening weekend’s #MLS results: None of the past 4 MLS Cup champions won their season opener in their title season (0-2-2). In fact, none of them even scored a goal.
In the meantime, we have our first home game of the season to look forward to (or not) this Sunday vs the only team that got the best of us three times (*angry emoji*) last season, DC United. DCU snuck around during the offseason and picked up Yamil Asad on loan from Velez Sarsfield in Argentina.
If you read any of my columns last year, you’ll know Asad was a fan favorite here in Atlanta in 2017. He will always be remembered for scoring the very first regular season ATLUTD goal and throwing ‘bows out on the field early in the season. He even went on to score DCU’s first goal of the season last week at Orlando (ha!).
ATLUTD take on DC United this Sunday, 3/11 at 3pm ET at home in front of a potentially record-breaking (again) crowd. The upper level will be open, which means 70k+ in attendance at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The inaugural season for Atlanta United was full of highs and lows. Highs like going undefeated against Orlando City SC (we are the #KingsOfTheSouth, after all) and drawing against both the first and second place teams from 2016 – twice against Toronto FC, thank you very much. Lows like losing all three games against DC United and Josef Martinez and Miguel Almirón getting injured.
Still, so many good things happened this year. First of all, WE HAVE A TEAM! And they did very well when no one really expected them to. They were the only expansion team to have made the playoffs in their first season since Seattle Sounders did in 2009. The 70 goals they scored this year is the second most in MLS this season and the highest ever for an expansion team. The +30 goal differential is also the highest for an expansion team and fourth in MLS this year.
The defense did some really good work this year as well. Alec Kann and Brad Guzan had a total of 12 clean sheets this season. MLS newbie Leandro González Pirez and veteran Michael Parkhurst teamed up in the back to become a formidable defensive presence. In the few games LGP didn’t play, it was definitely noticeable.
For all of the complaining about the team’s name in the last two years, it really has become very appropriate. This team really did unite this city like nothing has ever done before. Atlanta United supporters broke the single game attendance record – TWICE in five weeks – and then broke the playoff attendance record. ATLUTD supporters also had the highest average attendance for the regular season, with an average of just over 48,000.
In addition to those awards, three of the 24 Players Under 24 were from Atlanta (Villalba, Asad, and Almirón, who was #1), and five of the top selling jerseys in MLS were Atlanta players. We also have two players up for MVP (Almirón and Martinez) and coach Tata Martino is up for coach of the year.
After all of the successes in 2017, what do Atlanta supporters have to look forward to in 2018? For one, a team that’s been together for a year and knows each other pretty well now. Despite some post season roster moves and a few players who’s futures are up in the air (at least to the general public right now), Atlanta United have a solid core and any offseason moves will likely only enhance that.
Second, we’re getting a USL team! It was announced recently that Atlanta United will kick off a USL team in 2018 and they’ll play in Gwinnett County, about 35 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta. In a baseball stadium (*sigh*) with a little over 10,000 seats. Word is that they will eventually play at the ATLUTD training ground, but right now, the show pitch there only seats 2,500 and the USL minimum is 5,000.
The USL team is exciting because we have three new homegrown players being added to the roster next year and this will be our chance to really see them play. The new homegrowns will join U-17 National Team standouts Andrew Carleton (who saw a few minutes with the first team earlier in 2017) and Chris Goslin.
Third, now that we’ve moved into the Benz, we won’t have to worry about crazy schedules with 8 games in 24 days or months without a home game. Plus, we’re hosting the 2018 MLS All-Star Game!
While 2017 was tremendous for us here in the ATL, 2018 promises to be even better. And we’ll be there, rowdy & proud as ever.
Thoughts about Atlanta United’s first MLS Playoff game
I’m so nervous. I’ve not been this freaked out about a sporting event ever. I’m not even sure writing this is a good idea, but I feel like if I get this out of my system, I’ll feel better. Maybe. Possibly. Or not. I don’t know.
This article from Dirty South Soccer sums up a lot of what I’m thinking/feeling this week:
I’ve experienced a roller coaster of emotions this year thanks to Atlanta United. This year has been everything I expected and more. Now that we’re just a little over 24 hours before actually playing a playoff game, though… *breathes into paper bag*
ATLUTD has played Columbus Crew three times this year: once in preseason at the Carolina Challenge Cup (Columbus won 2-1) and twice in the first half of the regular season (both wins for Atlanta). Both teams play a similar style of attacking soccer. Atlanta is favored to win this game, but it doesn’t seem likely to be an easy victory.
Atlanta does have home field advantage, though – and with over 70,000 people expected at this game (for the third time in just over a month and second in less than a week!), it’ll be LOUD.
A collaboration by official reporters of MLSFemale @MLSFemale
With Major League Soccer, there is no greater prize than the MLS Cup. Twelve teams, 6 from each conference, are vying for the chance to lift the ultimate prize of the league’s 22nd season. Here’s a quick rundown from our MLSFemale squad:
Toronto FC: AND NOW YOU’RE GUNNA BELIEVE US, we’ve gone and won the league! Suffice it to say the city of Toronto is over the moon with our accomplishments this season and we are looking forward to what we hope is a great playoff run. Michael Bradley succinctly put our season in summation by saying “…we went after every game from 1 to 34 like it was the only thing that mattered.” (source)
I think they can be proud that they never really wavered on that goal and it paid off. As a member of the Kings in the North, one of the official protectors of the Supporters’ Shield during it’s stay in Toronto, I look forward to spending some time up close and personal with it.
Our playoff future looks bright; one is left hoping that we take that same winning mentality into the playoffs and consider every opponent and every game with care. Finishing off the regular season at Atlanta was also a good test for us to end on. Fresh to the league, they were the one team I felt we hadn’t had a proper chance to sound out back in April. Having seen their house and how they feel about our players (your hate makes them strong, our love makes them unstoppable), I now feel confident that Toronto FC has the arsenal to make a successful playoff run. And as Giovinco has shown, this team is ready for whatever is thrown at them. So bring on our second (okay fine, third) go at it, we’re here to win it all!
*NYCFC: Not gonna lie: this team gets measurably better every year. With head coach Patrick Vieira, the Pigeons have made it to their 1st MLS post season in style, with a bye for the knockout round. Legend David Villa and newcomer Jack Harrison, as well as the rest of the squad, are going to face their first opponents well rested and ready for a run. Just how far can the boys in blue go their first time out?
Chicago Fire: Nine months ago Fire fans were excited for the club’s new signings– with Dax McCarty, Juninho, Niko, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, certainly the Men in Red wouldn’t finish last place again – would they?
By early June, fans knew that not only were the Chicago Fire going to dig themselves out from the bottom of the table, but the likelihood that they would be playoff contenders looked promising.
David Accam, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Juninho, amongst others have been battling injuries, just returned from injury, or will return from injury for the playoffs. Is the squad recovering at the appropriate time? With key players on the bench over the last couple of months, other players gained experience – this will certainly help strengthen roster options when Veljko Paunovic looks to his bench for substitution options.
Who will get the nod for the goalkeeper position? Matt Lampson, who has been with the team since February of 2016 and a total of 34 games played for the Fire? Or will Richard Sanchez start in net after only recently signing with the Fire?
We supporters are excited for the playoffs, for the opportunities that lie ahead, and for a home game, but we’re also realistic, especially after the last two unfortunate seasons.
Atlanta United: Well, here we are…The new kids in the league are in the playoffs. A 4th place finish to the regular season is better than where I thought we’d be at the beginning of the season. This gives us home field advantage for Thursday’s knockout round game – and home field advantage in Mercedes-Benz Stadium could be significant. We’ve also won both games against Columbus (#SaveTheCrew!) earlier this season – although we did lose to them in the preseason Carolina Challenge Cup in February.
This team is much stronger now. They’ve now had an entire season to get to know each other. We have a solid starting lineup – even with a few subs because of injuries. And with over 70,000 people expected at the game on Thursday to cheer them on, I think Atlanta United has a really good chance at hoisting that cup in December.
The boys are ready for this. Atlanta is ready for this.
Columbus Crew:In the middle of the season, the Crew was struggling and looked unlikely to make the playoffs, but Berhalter seems to have the magic touch with his team at the end of the season.The tie against NYCFC took the Crew’s unbeaten streak to 10.It kept the team in the 5th spot while a win could’ve put them in 2nd place.
The team is dealing with a lot of distractions with a fan base who passionately loves them and is distraught that an owner would take them away.(#savethecrew)However, if the team can keep their form and absorb the passion the fans are showing them, they actually have a chance against Atlanta.Although, it will be a tough away game.The fans really need them to win, so we have a home playoff game to show how much we love the players.
New York Red Bulls: Whew! Just made it in under the wire. But RBNY is in the playoffs for the 8th season in a row. Always the bridesmaid, RBNY is the only MLS 1.0 team (originally the NY/NJ Metrostars) never to lift the MLS Cup. Coach Jesse Marsch has said that the team has been the favorite during the playoffs to no avail and that it’s time to be underdog.
I’m expecting a solid performance from Tyler Adams and the rest of the back line as well as more attacking from Daniel Royer. Defender Aurelien Collin has been working his way back to full health, and Jesse hopes to be able to bring him back into the 18. Dax McCarty and the Chicago Fire are the first obstacle in the knockout round, and another edition of the Hudson River Derby is practically guaranteed after that. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth having ever is. Fight Together.
Portland Timbers: It is not an overstatement to say that for the Timbers this Sunday’s game was the most important game of the year up to this point. The Cascadia Cup was on the line, as was the chance to win the conference and a first round bye.
With a Portland win, they have won the West and a first round bye. They also take back the Cascadia Cup, the coveted supporter-owned trophy awarded to whichever northwest team has the best finish among the three Cascadia-area squads. If Portland had tied or lost, Seattle would have taken the Cup, and Portland would almost certainly have dropped to third or fourth place, hosting a midweek knockout round game.
As I expected, Attinella remained in goal, with Vytas and Powell on the wings, and Mattocks up top as we wait for Fanendo Adi to be match fit. And with PTFC’s Mattocks being a former Whitecaps player there was plenty of opportunity for a knife-twisting match finish as he gave us the go-ahead goal to seal the deal. Now we wait to see who makes it out of the knockout round.
Seattle Sounders: It is finally time to defend our cup.This year has been such an up and down year.There are days where we look like the team from last year’s run.And then there are games where we look like a team that hasn’t even played together before.
The game against FC Dallas gives me hope that maybe we are turning a corner.With a win on Sunday gives us a much needed bye.This will give the team time to heal up.I can’t wait for this run at the MLS cup.I really hope the top team in the East loses so we can host the cup this year!!
Vancouver Whitecaps: The Whitecaps were able to pull themselves above the red line in a very decisive way, landing themselves in 3rd place in the Western conference after flirting with the top spot for a hot minute. They will meet the San Jose Earthquakes in the knockout round at home in Vancouver. This is a decided advantage for the Whitecaps, as BC Place has been a fortress for the team this season.
*Houston Dynamo: The Dynamo played VERY well at home this year, giving up only one game at home at BBVA during the regular season. And they have to be looking forward to the opportunity to take on Sporting KC again, having just beaten them at home less than two weeks ago and drawing them in Kansas City shortly thereafter. If they manage to pull it off, their next opponent will be one of the top two finishers in the West, Portland or Seattle.
Sporting KC: I am not pleased with how this season ended, and I am not pleased that Sporting fell from 1st to 5th in the West over the last third of the season. If we’re going to make it anywhere in the playoffs we have to do one thing…score goals. It seems like that should be pretty easy, but obviously it’s not since SKC scored just 3 goals in their last 5 games.
If the Sporting team from the beginning of the season comes back then we could be in good shape, but the run will be hard since we have no home field advantage. Hopefully, with this being the third game against Houston in a two week span we’ll have them figured out. Sporting, don’t make this city regret all the energy you put into the US Open Cup. We need some of that magic for the playoffs.
*San Jose Earthquakes: The Quakes had a wild finish to the regular season, with the winning goal coming three minutes into stoppage time against expansion side Minnesota United. Now they travel to Canada on only three days rest for a single game elimination round. They may still manage the upset against a Whitecaps squad that is struggling to put games away at precisely the wrong time in the season.
If San Jose can pull it off, they will face Portland in a conference semifinal, a team they’ve beaten at home twice during the regular season.
(Teams marked with a * do not have an official reporter from MLSFemale. If you support any of these teams, find your inner reporter and contact us!)
The Eastern Conference has already been decided the week before Major League Soccer’s Decision Day. The New York Red Bulls (13-12-8, 47 points), despite what felt like a rickety roller coaster of a season, clinched the final spot in the playoffs with a decisive win at home against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
When RBNY played Atlanta United (15-9-9, 54 points) on Opening Day for this season, it was a momentous occasion. While the sparkling newcomers opened the scoring, they faltered at not only the feet of legendary Red Bull striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, but also their own: an own goal gave the day to the team of MLS history. And while that’s not exactly how a team wants to win, fans surely took it as a sign of a strong season for RBNY while Atlanta braced themselves for growing pains in their inaugural season. But as the season continued, it was clear: one game does not a season make.
[Insert Flatliners joke about DC United here. What? It’s not like I have a DCU colleague to insult… yet.]
Being the final home game of the regular season, RBNY participated in the league-wide tradition of Supporter’s Day, with live music and drink specials, and a promise of all sorts of fireworks, from the players as well as the pyrotechnic experts. And boy did they all deliver! Atlanta United is.. are.. um.. well..?
I do a running log of every game just so I can remember it later (You don’t wanna see it, trust me. It’s a total snoozefest). I have nearly 10 statements that include the words “taken down” or “foul by [ATL player].” Add in the only two yellow cards of the match (both for Atlanta: Yamil Asad 61′; Leadro Gonzalez-Pirez 94′) and the only thing I can say is, ‘Ouch. That’s rough.’
But RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch said… a little more:
Their bench is yelling to kick our guys from the bench, okay. So Martino is yelling in Spanish to kick our players.
Is it true? Is Jesse just speaking out of frustration? I don’t know. I don’t really care. Comments like this don’t change anything.
The Ironman vs Mr. Clean Sheet: I’m absolutely convinced that the entire 90 minutes of the match could have been comprised of RBNY GK Luis Robles punting the ball to ATLUTD GK Brad Guzan and Guzan returning it in kind. Would’ve been the most boring game ever… Both keepers were credited with 3 saves and were supported by their respective back lines.
Play Your Kids: The Average age of the players on RBNY is 26 years, 3 months (What were you doing at that age? I had two kids and the most creative I ever got with writing was making wacky fill-in-the-blank vocabulary tests for high school kids.) Atlanta United is not far behind with an average age of 26 years 7 months.
While I write, ATLUTD Midfielder Andrew Carleton is helping make some USMNT U-17 magic in the U-17 World Cup in India. RBNY’s Derrick Etienne was called up for the Haitian national team when they played a friendly against Japan. And of course, RBNY Academy product Tyler Adams was the center of attention after going another 90 minutes in red and white, having figured in USMNT’s U-17 and U-20 teams and their respective World Cup runs.
“We love our young players, and we love to develop them. We
love to teach them to play our style. We like them to be aggressive. We want them to be rewarded for their aggression, for their commitment and you see that in our system, players develop, period, period.” –Jesse Marsch, post game interview
That’s certainly great, but does that affect the veteran players?
“Obviously, the physical part of the game comes really easy for Tyler Adams. Sean Davis, I thought stood pretty tall today as well and covered a lot of ground. We’ve gotten some good performances from some young guys, and we got to push ourselves into the playoffs.” -Midfielder & team Captain Sacha Kljestan
“Maybe the light is not on me anymore, it’s on the young players… and I love that.”
-Defender Damien Perrinelle
(That’s right: I interviewed Damien Perrinelle… badly. Being a teacher for nearly 20 years, I’m used to being the one doing all the talking. But this is the only way to learn; if he’ll allow it, I’ll take another run at it next chance I get.)
The Result: Before the match, I did an Instagram Live video with my ATLUTD counterpart, and neither of us were sure what to expect. But after the attacks and counterattacks, the free kicks and the corners, the tackles and the warnings, a scoreless draw and no major injuries from either team was just about the best result that could have happened. So let the *other* fireworks begin. These two teams just might see each other one more time during the post-season.
On a personal note: I have to take this opportunity to tell you, the reader, that this writing experience with MLSFemale has been one of the best things to happen to me in recent years. I didn’t know what to expect when I first filled out an application for a media pass at Red Bull Arena. Pretty much every other writer here is a member of a team supporter club/season ticket holder, so I’m taking a very different approach by opting for the press box.
But I’ve met some amazing writers, photographers, and podcasters, and have been able to share my passion for the club with them (especially Kerissa— the Veron to my BWP). I even introduced myself to Tina Cervasio of MSG, who is a role model in the world of female sportscasting. The guys in the RBNY communications department have been super supportive, and it’s been so much fun to get to know MLS employees and soccer pundits as a result of my writing.
The players have been gracious and open, and I hope to get more time to bring their personalities to you in the coming months, even after the final whistle blows this season. I’ve had the time of my life, and I owe it all to all of you.
(PS– yeah, I know my usual musical theme didn’t come through much in this article. Don’t @ me… oh, you know what– go ahead. I’m a grown @ woman.)
Since the Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened, Atlanta United have been unstoppable. Here’s a rundown of the stats for ATLUTD between 9/10-24:
5 home games
Have outscored opponents 19-3
2 hat tricks by Josef Martinez in back-to-back games
4 clean sheets for Brad Guzan
3rd place in the Eastern Conference
Still 2 games in hand vs most of the conference (only playing 1 Western Conference team in remaining 5 regular season games)
Going to a game at the Benz feels like going to a party. The huge tailgates before the weekend games (and slightly smaller ones on weekdays) just enhance that atmosphere. It feels like we’ve done nothing but party for 2 weeks straight.
So many goals to cheer for! NINETEEN GOALS in five games. Eight of those scored by Josef Martinez in the first four games – and back-to-back hat tricks! That guy knows how to put on a show!
When you score two hat tricks in the same week, well…
Last Wednesday, Yamil Asad had a great game, too. In a 4-0 drubbing of the LA Galaxy, Asad was involved in all of the goals, scoring two for himself and assisting on the other two. (Also note, the boys now wear suits when they arrive for games. *swoon*)
This Sunday, it was a little of everyone. Tito Villalba scored the first goal – another blast into the top 90 of the goal – which seems to be a sweet spot for him (see: Tito’s winning goal at Orlando City in July).
The other big news out of Sunday’s game was Miguel Almiron pulling up with a hamstring injury in the 17th minute. He was visibly upset walking off the field on Sunday and it was announced Monday that he will be out for a minimum of three weeks, which means he won’t be playing for Paraguay next week during the international break and may not be back until the last game of the season (vs Toronto) at the earliest.
With Sunday’s result, ATLUTD are now sitting alone in third place in the Eastern conference, just three points behind NYCFC and with a game in hand. Both teams play this Wednesday (ATLUTD hosts Philadelphia and NYCFC at Montreal).
ATLUTD will finally be caught up next week on games played after a trip away to New England and a home game vs Minnesota United – a game that should have been played in August, but was pushed back due to the MBS construction delays.
Other news of note this week:
ATLUTD have now scored more goals than any expansion team ever in MLS (63)
Homegrown players Andrew Carleton, Chris Goslin and Justin Garces were all named on the 21-player roster for the U-17 World Cup in India, being played in October.
After his double hat trick performance last week, Josef Martinez was named MLS Player of the Week.
Yamil Asad was named to the MLS Best XI and Leandro Gonzales Pirez was “on the bench” for Team of the Week.
Kevin Kratz won Goal of the Week last week for his free kick goal vs New England; Tito Villalba’s rocket is up for Goal of the Week this week – and ATLUTD always wins the internet, so don’t be too surprised when Tito wins this one, too.
So many firsts here in Atlanta this season – and this weekend saw another one: ATLUTD’s first game in our brand-spanking-new $1.5 billion stadium. I did an Instagram takeover a few weeks ago when we were invited to preview the stadium. The stadium itself is breathtaking. The atmosphere from Bobby Dodd has definitely carried over – and multiplied – at the Benz. It is LOUD in there.
For the first game, the announced attendance was 45,314, which is on par with the numbers from Bobby Dodd. It was just announced Wednesday morning that the ATLvNE game is sold out as well, which makes it now 11 sell outs in 11 games. I had a slightly unique perspective walking into the stands on Sunday, as I was chosen to represent my SG in the Golden Spike ceremony (a rep from each of the four recognized supporters groups carries the spike in before every game). Below is a video taken by one of the other reps – that’s the back of my head at the front left of the spike.
The key thing about the field at the Benz is that it’s longer and wider than the field at Bobby Dodd (70×110 > 75×115). 25 square yards doesn’t sound like much, but it may have made the difference on Sunday for ATLUTD. Our midfielders (Tito Villalba and Yamil Asad) and defenders (Greg Garza and Anton Walkes) on the sides had more room to make runs up the wings, creating more chances and getting more results.
Speaking of Tito…have a game, kid! He was definitely back on track this week, with assists on two of three goals and a few shots on goal himself. The first assist was a header from a short corner that fell to Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, who just got a touch on the ball that slowly crept into the net behind FC Dallas goalie Jesse Gonzalez. It was Pirez’s first goal for ATLUTD, and the historic first goal in the Benz. It also reminded me a lot of the first goal of the season for ATLUTD that was scored by Yamil Asad.
The second goal happened so quickly after the second half started, I almost didn’t catch it. Not thirty seconds into the half, Almirón got the ball to Josef Martínez, who scored his first goal since July 4th.
Greg Garza scored his second goal of the season in the 68′ when Almirón passed to Martínez, who stepped over the ball, bringing a Dallas defender with him, and clearing the way for Garza to tap it into the net behind Jesse Gonzalez.
Both goalkeepers had great games, too. Guzan ended up with the clean sheet, but Jesse Gonzalez had some spectacular saves (and was saved by the crossbar a couple of times). Matt Hedges had Gonzalez’s back once in the first half and cleared a ball right at the goal line.
Coach Tata Martino said after the game that it was the team’s best game of the season, and I agree. After a month of long breaks and poor showings, the game the boys played on Sunday was exactly what we all – the team and the fans – needed, especially with the number of games we have in the next few weeks. If they can keep performing like they did against Dallas, getting into the playoffs will be a piece of cake.
Our next game is Wednesday against New England Revolution, who we have not played yet this season, and we’ll play them again at the end of the month. Saturday, 9/16, is the Big One, though. Our final game against Orlando City this season, in front of a record-setting regular season MLS crowd of 70,000+. I will most likely be doing another IG takeover, so go follow the MLSFemale account!
First things first: I’d like to ask the MLS Scheduling Department why they would schedule a game to coincide with Game of Thrones?!?!?!?!?! Thank goodness for HBO West, but I had to stay up way past my bedtime Sunday night. Totally worth it for both the game and GoT. No GoT spoilers here, but WOW.
Moving on! Atlanta United traveled to Kansas City this weekend to take on the team at the top of the Western conference. One thing I learned this weekend is that ATLUTD has more wins than ANY team in the West. Atlanta’s record is 10-7-5; the TOP SEVEN teams in the West all have nine wins. So there’s that. Sporting KC also has 10 draws this year after last night’s result.
I was reminded yet again last night of how bad the MLS referees are. This was not a foul:
For the record, that’s 7 games undefeated for ATLUTD. We have a 2+ week break (thanks to the delayed opening of Mercedes Benz Stadium) before the boys return to DC to take on DC United for the 3rd – and thankfully final – time this season. Here’s to hoping we can manage a win. Third time’s the charm, right?
Also in ATLUTD news:
ATLUTD traded a 2019 3rd round draft pick for CB Bobby Boswell this week. The man packed up his truck and drove all night to get here Wednesday and meet the team. We kind of love him already.
After much online banter between Atlanta United and Orlando City fans over the last month – and some for over two years prior, the two teams finally met in Orlando on Friday, July 21 to begin the (slightly manufactured) rivalry everyone’s been talking about.
Things got heated a few days before the game when we learned that ATLUTD had paid for a billboard to go up in downtown Orlando, two blocks from the OCSC stadium.
This did not go over well in Orlando. Two days after it went up, the billboard was defaced (allegedly) by the Iron Lion Firm, one of OCSC’s let’s say “rowdier” supporters groups. The billboard was taken down later that day, whether by Orlando fans or because that was the plan is unclear.
ATLUTD had just under 500 fans travel to Orlando for the game. During the march to the match, Atlanta fans were escorted by local police and some OCSC front office staff. Someone threw a purple smoke bomb in the middle of the march. Another Atlanta fan was sucker punched walking to the stadium and the people he was with had water bottles thrown at them. There were also reports of a false fire alarm at 3:45AM at the hotel the team was staying at. The social media staff had a good response to that one:
The game was pretty close, though. If not for Tito Villalba‘s late screamer of a goal, ATLUTD would have come away with just one point. My favorite part of this clip is that Adrian Healy and Taylor Twellman are talking about how Bendik has been making some great saves and is Orlando’s MVP and then…
I hate to say it, but that was really well done. And it had us ATL fans worried for a while. Down 0-1 at home to a team we defeated 8 days prior? Fortunately, Tito did not let that happen. An extra time goal from Tito took back a point and Atlanta remains undefeated against Orlando City. I do love the treatment Dirty South Soccer gives this clip:
We still have one more game against Orlando coming up in September. Hopefully their fans will be a little bit better behaved (but probably not).
This coming Sunday, Atlanta United travel to Kansas City to take on the top team in the West. I’m nervous, y’all. The good news is that Dom Dwyer is already in Orlando and wasn’t very effective against us this weekend. At least we don’t have to worry about him.
In other news…
Lots of progress has been made on our new home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium (aka “The Benz”). Turf was laid down this week. The stadium held a media day last week and so many pictures were shared!
It was just announced on Monday that our first game at the Benz is already sold out. The capacity will be held at 42,500 (the standard going forward for ATLUTD games) for the September 10th game against FC Dallas.
The ATLUTD U-16 Academy team are national champions!
U-15/16 Kings of the Academy. 👑@AcademyATLUTD only needed ☝️ year to make history. 🏆