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.
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. 🏆
Lucky for us here in Atlanta, there was an event to help us quell our thirst for soccer while a handful of our boys are on international duty. ATLSoccerCon held its second annual event today on the west side of town. Set up in an indoor soccer facility, there were supporter groups of ATLUTD and international teams, vendors, Subbueto games, and some jersey, scarf and memorabilia collections. Outside, there was the ever-present beer trailer, a food truck, and a giant foot darts game.
ATLSoccerCon was started by a few of my friends who are massive soccer nerds – and I mean that in the best way. Austin Long is a self-labeled kit nerd and regular podcaster, both on his own (check out his Soccer Nomad podcast here) and also hosts the Terminus Legion podcast (you can find those on Soundcloud and iTunes). Jason Longshore is an editor for the Atlanta United blog, Dirty South Soccer (my favorite source of ATLUTD news), runs soccerdownhere.com, and also happens to be a commentator for the ATLUTD game broadcasts on local radio station 92.9 The Game. He kind of knows his stuff, especially when it comes to Atlanta soccer. JR Francis is a marketing and design guru – he’s the designer behind the Terminus Legion logo (along with tons of other designs). He’s also got the most massive collection of jerseys I’ve ever seen.
A good time was had by all in attendance at ATLSoccerCon and it took our minds off of the injury that Josef Martinez suffered during Thursday night’s Venezuela – Peru game, if only for a few hours.
From what we hear, it’s a left thigh injury. He came back to Atlanta and was scheduled for an MRI today, but no word as of yet what the results were or whether he will be available for Friday night’s game at Seattle. At least we know he’ll be around for a while, though, since ATLUTD finalized the permanent transfer of Martinez from Torino this Tuesday. Oh, and Martinez also won MLS Goal of the Week for this shot in the ATLvCHI game:
Meanwhile, Miguel Almiron played for Paraguay, also on Thursday, in a 2-2 draw with Ecuador, Carlos Carmona stayed on the bench for Chile’s 1-0 loss to Argentina, and Kenwyne Jones played 84 minutes for Trinidad & Tobago in their 1-0 win over Panama.
In other news, this article by Doug Roberson of the AJC made my day, specifically this quote from ATLUTD’s rookie sensation, Julian Gressel: “On the field, I remember in the second half, you are on the field and you hear the main supporter’s section going ‘Atlanta’ and the rest of the stadium go ‘United.’ I was on the field and I had to take a deep breath for a second and regroup to focus on the game again. It was breath-taking. It was unreal.” The new hashtag #GresselMania is also a thing here in Atlanta, much to the amusement of some of Gressel’s teammates.
ATLUTD has a four (FOUR!!) game road trip coming up this month, mostly to accommodate for Georgia Tech’s spring football games. Our first major test of the season will be next Friday’s game at Seattle, especially now with Clint Dempsey appearing to be in top form after the USMNT’s rather decisive victory over Honduras last night. Holy cow.
In the meantime, since ATLUTD aren’t playing tonight, I’m getting my live soccer fix by watching some former Atlanta Silverbacks players (Poku and Chavez for Miami and Paul Black for NCFC) in the North Carolina FC vs Miami FC NASL season opener. Yay for random cable networks I never knew existed! The game just ended as a 1-1 draw. Good to see those boys in action again this year!
See y’all next weekend when hopefully I’ll be reporting some good news after SEAvATL!