Tag Archives: Mercedes Benz Stadium

Investing in Greatness: Atlanta United Wins the 2018 MLS Cup

Atlanta United Wins the MLS Cup 2-0 Over the Portland Timbers, Tata Martino Leaves MLS on Top, and a Perspective on the Future of American Soccer.

Sarah Kallassy - DC United/mlsfemale
Official MLSFemale Contributor

By Sarah Kallassy // @SarahKallassy

On Saturday Atlanta’s skies were grey and a chilly rain persistently pelted the city causing anyone in the streets to look for cover. It was not a beautiful day for a soccer match, but for Atlanta United and Portland Timbers supporters, the weather couldn’t dampen their enthusiasm.

Sarah Kallassy - MLS Cup/mlsfemale
Image: Sarah Kallassy

The Timbers Army began their MLS Cup day by planting trees at the Morningside Nature Preserve before their afternoon tailgate. Atlanta United supporters’ groups, such as Resurgence, gathered in the Gulch, pushing their way under an overpass to avoid the rain while they waited to enter Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

73,019 fans. A record-breaking number, attended the 2018 MLS Cup, rocking the multi-use Mercedes-Benz Stadium with soccer fervor.

Sarah Kallassy - MLS Cup/mlsfemale
Image: Sarah Kallassy

Before the match even began, the excitement inside the stadium was palpable and very, very, loud. It was definitely Atlanta United’s house, the crowd awash with black, red, and gold, broken only by the small contingent of the Timbers Army clad in forest green.

Tifo flags bearing Atlanta’s logo and statements such as, ‘bless your heart,’ waved amidst the ‘fireflies’ that lit the stands and conjured the image of a summer night in the heart of Georgia.

As the match began, the Portland Timbers hoped to recreate the magic of their 2015 MLS Cup victory over the Columbus Crew, while Atlanta United’s young team looked for a perfect end to their electrifying second season in MLS. The home team did not disappoint.

Early on in the match, it was clear that playing at home gave Atlanta a clear edge over the Timbers. Feeding off the energy coursing through their stadium, Atlanta continually denied Portland possession and chances on goal, keeping the pressure on during the first half.

Josef Martinez, the Venezuelan Striker who was named the 2018 MLS MVP, scored his 35th goal of the season in the 38th minute, putting Atlanta United ahead 1-0 right before halftime. Predictably, the fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium went wild. Martinez’s performance during the match would lead him to be named MLS Cup MVP by the end of the night.

Portland made several attempts on goal throughout the game; however, Atlanta United goalie Brad Guzan kept the sheet clean. In the 42nd minute, a particularly dangerous shot by Timber’s striker Jeremy Ebobisse looked like it would see the back of Atlanta United’s net and tie the match before halftime. Atlanta’s fans seemed to hold their collective breath as the ball soared toward Guzan. Not to be bested, Guzan made the difficult save, and the Timbers Army, cloistered on the 300 level of the stadium would have to continue to hope that Portland would make it on the board.

The Portland Timbers emerged from the locker room for the second half with a renewed sense of urgency. They began to place more pressure on Atlanta, but it would be for naught. In the 53rd minute, Franco Escobar made a second goal for Atlanta United, giving the team a comfortable lead, 2-0 over Portland.

Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, Alvas Powell, and Dairon Asprilla all tried to fire shots at Atlanta’s Guzan in the second half but were unable to send the ball into the net. Diego Chara of the Timbers and Chris McCann of Atlanta United were both issued yellow cards toward the end of the second half, but neither Atlanta nor Portland scored again.

Sarah Kallassy - MLS Cup/mlsfemale
Image: Sarah Kallassy

As the five minutes of stoppage time that referee Alan Kelly had added to the second half came to an end, the sense of anticipation and excitement in the stadium grew. When the clock hit 95 minutes, Atlanta, the city that hadn’t claimed a sports championship in over 20 years, had won the MLS Cup.

In the post-game press conference, Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese was predictably solemn, he said that both teams had put up, “a good fight.” He expressed his frustration with the officiating of the game and stressed that “for this final, for a final so important… I expected more. And I think, sometimes the little things are very important.” Savarese stressed that he did not wish to detract from the great performance of Atlanta United with his statement.

Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino, Atlanta United head coach, was of course jubilant. Doused in champagne after the traditional toast in the locker room, he stated that, “the club never modified their plan,” that was established in 2016 when he came on board as head coach. Martino said that “the most satisfying thing was to be able to fulfill all the plans the club presented to me at the beginning. I think we’ve got the best training facilities in the league, we’ve got the best team in the league… they give the coaching staff absolutely everything they need to be successful, and that’s what makes it the most satisfying.”

Sarah Kallassy - MLS Cup/mlsfemale
Image: Sarah Kallassy

While some may say that the stars aligned this season for Atlanta’s win, it seems rather that they positioned their own stars, aligning them through careful investment in the team, the facilities, and the staff. Both the Portland Timbers and Atlanta United played terrific soccer in the MLS Cup and their supporters should be proud, but Atlanta United proved a point on Saturday night about the future of American soccer; we will get out of it what we put in.

Featured image of Resurgence SG: Grant Russell

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @SarahKallassy

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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All-Stars and MLS: From the sidelines

Tisha Gale - NYCFC photographer/mlsfemale
Official NYCFC Photographer

By Tisha Gale // @TishaGale

The MLS All-Star Game is the third biggest, yet most controversial event in Major League Soccer’s arsenal of annual festivities.  In the grand scheme of things, a midseason friendly, no matter the opponent, has very little to no clout and offers more risks than reward. However, this is America, and an All-Star exhibition game is about as American as you can get.

#tishajuvdossantos
Juventus player, Alex Sandro toe-pokes the ball away from MLS All-Star, Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy). Image: Tisha Gale

This year, the midseason clash between the MLS All-Stars and the Italian bigwigs, Juventus, led us to a showdown in rainy Atlanta, Georgia on Wednesday, August 1, 2018. In the weeks leading up to the match, the topic on everyone’s minds was the overall significance of the All-Star Game. I asked a few friends and colleagues to weigh-in with their opinions of the All-Star Game and here’s what they had to say:

“I’m of two minds when it comes to the MLS All-Star Game. On one hand, pitting our best players against a well-known European powerhouse draws more fans to our league, and ideally shows that we’re progressing in ability and quality with how we acquit ourselves in the friendly. The continued growth in fandom and support make MLS more viable as a major sport with key younger demographic groups. If you’re a fan of the league, you really have to appreciate that.”

“On the other hand, it’s a meaningless friendly in the middle of the season, where the players selected have little time to prepare and gel as a squad, making the possibility of a cohesive, well-drilled game plan difficult to realize and execute. There’s very little upside for selected players and greater risk of injury, especially when the game is played on turf. The game is held midweek during a brutal part of the schedule which doesn’t incentivize participation (so much so that a rule was created to punish those who skip it, even due to injury).”

“If I had a vote, I’d push for . . . a return to East vs. West [format] and make the outcome meaningful (e.g. home field advantage in MLS Cup Finals, or decide which leg to host in MLS Cup playoffs).”  Dave K. (@kilsey on Twitter)

Tisha Gale - MLS All-Star/mlsfemale
MLS All-Star captain, Carlos Vela, wins a 50/50 battle with Juventus star, Emre Can. Image: Tisha Gale

The last time Major League Soccer hosted an East vs West All-Star showdown was at the 2004 game in which the East defeated the West in a 3-2 match at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. In fact, there have been six “East vs West” All-Star games to date, with the East holding an impressive 4-1-1 record. As a proud supporter of one of the best teams in the East, New York City FC, I would be happy to see the return of East vs West format.

My MLSFemale colleague, Keira, echoed Dave’s opinions. However, her biggest complaint has not to do with the game itself, but with one of the rules surrounding it.

“A change must happen to the rules regarding missing the All-Star Game (ASG) for a documented injury. If you miss at least two games prior to the ASG due to injury, you should not be suspended from the next regular season game due to missing the ASG. It’s a punishment to players and their teams. The ASG should be a celebration of excellence in MLS, not a burden.” –Keira M.S. (@keiramunsmith on Twitter)

This ASG rule sparked some outrage in New York when it was announced that David Villa would have to miss the NYCYC’s regular season match versus Vancouver Whitecaps because he had to bow out of the All-Star game. Villa was coming off a six-game injury spell.

There is clearly a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the way the ASG is executed. While some people think a little restructuring would do the trick, others believe that a completely new blueprint might be the best option.

“I mean, All-Star games really are an American thing overall. The idea of this one kinda comes from MLB’s mid-summer classic . . . Personally, I think trying to Americanize soccer hurts it here; from scheduling to roster limits . . . What they should do is create an American Super Cup that pits the MLS Cup winners and the Open Cup winners together to start the season. Like the rest of the world does with their league winners and domestic Cup winners.” –Jeff W. (@J_Weisinger on Twitter)

For the players selected to represent MLS, the All-Star Game is the ultimate pick-up game. It is a chance for them to get together with their friends across the league, to set rivalries aside and enjoy a night of the beautiful game.

When Dudes in Blue co-host, Anthony Scarcello, asked Alex Ring what it was like to attend his first All-Star game, the New York City FC midfielder stated, “I think it was a nice couple of days seeing the guys from the other teams in the league. Playing a little bit, having some fun.” All in all, the game provides “a good opportunity to enjoy yourself a little midweek.”

#tishaalexring
Alex Ring, the only player to represent New York City FC at the 2018 All-Star Game, after Villa’s injury ruled him out of the lineup. Image: Tisha Gale

With the debate seeming to end in a stalemate, at least until things undoubtedly heat up again next year, on what side of the coin do you land?  Should the powers that be package the MLS ASG in maple and drape it in the stars and stripes, or will a simple restructuring make it a more appealing event for players and fans alike?

Tisha Gale - MLS All-Star/mlsfemale
Sami Khedira aerial challenge. Image: Tisha Gale

As for me, this was my first year attending an MLS All-Star game, and I was fortunate enough to do so while representing MLSFemale. The All-Stars also presented a unique opportunity for me to network with other fans, photographers, reporters and podcasters from across the league, including a few of my MLSFemale colleagues.

Tisha Gale - MLS All-Star/mlsfemale
MLSFemale Cooligans Crew: Robyn (ATL), Jess (COL), Eve (IMFC), Aya (ATL), Tisha (NYCFC) 🙂

ATL All-Star 18 - Tisha - MLS All-Star/mlsfemale

Pointless or not, the atmosphere inside the stadium was electrifying; all my senses were heightened. The thrill of flashing my “Photographer” media credentials to security as I roamed the belly of Mercedes-Benz Stadium was enough to give me the best heart palpitations. By the time the game started, I was already on cloud 9. The photographer sitting next to me who kept quietly chanting, “This is boring,” could do nothing to lull me out of my perpetual state of bliss, and neither could the star whose bulb blew at the absolute wrong time.

Tisha Gale - MLS All-Star/mlsfemale

Tisha Gale - MLS All-Star/mlsfemale
Image: Tisha Gale

Images by Tisha Gale 

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @TishaGale

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

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Party at the Benz for Atlanta United

Robyn Saghini - Atlanta United FC/mlsfemale
Official Atlanta United FC Reporter

By Robyn Saghini // @robynsaghini

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
  • 4-0-1 record
  • 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!

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 second goal was a pass from Julian Gressel into the box that Jeff Larentowicz chested into the goal. It was Larentowicz’s first goal for ATLUTD and caused quite the stir on social media on Monday…

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.

Featured image courtesy: atlutd.com

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @robynsaghini

Check us out on instagram @mlsfemale

Welcome Home

 

Robyn Saghini - Atlanta United FC/mlsfemale
Official Atlanta United FC Reporter

By Robyn Saghini // @robynsaghini

Sunday, September 10: 3-0 Win

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!

Featured image courtesy: atlutd.com

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @robynsaghini

Check us out on instagram @mlsfemale

The Answer

Robyn Saghini - Atlanta United FC/mlsfemale
Official Atlanta United FC Reporter

By Robyn Saghini // @robynsaghini

Sunday, August 6: 1-1 Draw

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:

But this was a yellow:

And this was a PK:

VAR was not used on any of these – or at all during the game if I’m not mistaken. Maybe referee forgot it was launching this weekend?

And yet, ATLUTD managed to get a goal (thanks to Jacob Peterson – aka “The Answer”, who we nabbed from SKC in the expansion draft) and steal a point in Kansas City.

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.
  • In order to make room for Boswell on the senior roster, Zach Loyd was moved to the season-ending injury list due to recurring concussion issues. 😦
  • In other trade news, ATLUTD loaned an international slot through the end of the year to San Jose for $75k. Not sure where that will get us, but we shall see if any additional roster changes are made
  • I will be doing another MLSFemale Instagram takeover on Saturday, August 19th when we get to attend an open house at our new home – Mercedes-Benz Stadium!

Featured image courtesy: atlutd.com

Follow and chat with me on twitter // @robynsaghini

Check us out on instagram @mlsfemale

Soccer Is In My Blood

Official Atlanta United FC Reporter
Official Atlanta United FC Reporter

By Robyn Saghini @robynsaghini

Hi there! My name is Robyn Saghini and I am an MLSFemale Official Reporter for Atlanta United FC. My love for soccer is in my blood. My dad grew up in Argentina and passed his love for the sport to me and my brother. I was on a team for one season when I was six years old, but I wasn’t very interested in playing. My brother started playing when he was four and never looked back, which meant I got dragged to games and tournaments all the time.

I grew up in New Jersey, so we were MetroStars (and later NYRB) fans. When we moved to Atlanta, my dad and I would get together on weekends and watch NYRB games when they were televised. For the last three years, I’ve been slowly backing away from NYRB and finally ended that relationship for good last October.

In 2011, Dad and I attended a pre-season MLS tournament just outside Atlanta. As we walked out of the stadium after the game, we were asked to sign a petition to bring an MLS team to Atlanta, which of course we did. A few years later, I saw a post about an MLS Cup Final watch party from the ATL Wants MLS Facebook page. Turns out the guy who started the petition was starting a supporters group for the new Atlanta MLS team he had heard some whispers about. I signed on immediately and became a co-founder of Terminus Legion, the first and largest supporters group for Atlanta United.

Over the last three and a half years, I’ve been working with TL and the Atlanta United front office to help spread the word about the team. I’ve spent hours on social media trying to convince whoever will listen that Atlanta is a soccer city.

With less than two weeks until the first regular season game for ATLUTD, there are almost 30,000 season tickets sold. Over 40,000 tickets have been sold for the home opener and it’s on track to be a sold out game. Once the tickets for the home opener at Mercedes Benz Stadium go on sale, I have no doubt they’ll sell out the entire stadium (over 70k seats).

Atlanta IS a soccer city. Atlanta United is our team. This is our time. #UniteAndConquer

Come chat with me on twitter: @robynsaghini