Atlanta United’s exit from the postseason may sting, but as the season begins to form in the rearview mirror, it’s worth looking back and taking stock of how 2019 treated the Five Stripes. And while MLS Cup may have been the ultimate goal, the year has still been a massive success. Here are some of the highlights from this season:
MLS RECORD: Most points ever by a defending champion (post-shootout era)
The year started out bumpy as the team began to gel under a new philosophy. But the team got hot in the month of May and never really looked back, shooting up the Eastern Conference standings. Atlanta United finished with 58 points, the most ever for a defending champion in MLS in the post-shootout era. Defending a title is tough in any sport, and the Five Stripes did it better than anyone in the history of the league.
MLS RECORD: Most consecutive clean sheet wins
That rise up the standings was propelled by one of the league’s best defenses. Highlighted by Miles Robinson’s emergence as an MLS Best XI defender, Atlanta United went more than seven and a half hours of match time without conceding, setting a new MLS record with five consecutive clean sheet wins. It was a crucial turning point in the season and the first signs that the team was starting to hit their top gear, led by a back line that evolved into one of the league’s best.
TWO MLS RECORDS for Josef Martinez
What is there left to say about Atlanta United’s Venezuelan striker Josef Martinez. Martinez came off an MVP and Golden Boot-winning season in which he broke the all-time MLS goals record, and went out and broke two more league records. The summer belonged to Martinez, with Josef scoring in 15 straight games, the most ever in the history of MLS and the second-longest streak in world history –– only behind Lionel Messi. From high-flying headers to dizzying dribbles, like his MLS Goal of the Year winner in Cincinnati, it was an incredible stretch. It put him at 77 goals in 80 starts in his MLS career. Despite a lengthy injury in his first season, that is the most ever in any three-year stretch in MLS history.
MLS RECORD: Single-match regular season attendance
With Atlanta United owning the top 7 all-time highest MLS attendances in the regular season, the city showed out once again by topping themselves. Atlanta United’s August home match against the LA Galaxy had 72,548 people in attendance, the most ever in an MLS regular season match. They caught a good one, with Atlanta United coming out runaway 3-0 winners over the visitors from California. Add in the home opener against FC Cincinnati and Atlanta United now own the top 9 highest single-match attendances in the regular season.
MLS FIRST: Campeones Cup Champions
Who could forget Atlanta United’s win over Club América at Mercedes-Benz Stadium? The matchup came in August, when Atlanta United was arguably at its top form of the season. And for the first time ever, an MLS team beat a Liga MX side in the Campeones Cup. Emerson Hyndman’s opener was a magnificent team goal, while Jeff Larentowicz’s rocket from distance and Josef Martinez’s penalty kick sealed it. It was a night to remember in Atlanta, and one that could raise the level of Campeones Cups to come.
CLUB FIRST: Winning U.S. Open Cup
Whenever you lift a trophy on your home pitch and spray your locker room with champagne is a memorable night for the club. And to win the oldest club competition in North America in the first time in club history will probably go down as the highlight of the season. From a rescheduled match, a monsoon in Columbus, a stubborn Saint Louis FC and a road match in Orlando, Atlanta United certainly earned their right to host. And when Minnesota United came to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Five Stripes exploded out of the gate and held off a late rally while down a man to win the trophy for the first time. It was a third major trophy in nine months for the club.
Individual Player Honors
The individual performance of Atlanta United players also of course made headlines this year, with two players singled out as the best among their peers in this league. Josef Martinez and Miles Robinson were both named to the MLS Best XI this season, with both of them also named finalist for MVP and Defender of the Year, respectively. And while Atlanta United’s Brad Guzan didn’t get an award for his performance, his 14 clean sheets were tied for the most in the league.
Major Club Awards
Atlanta United made major headlines overseas this season with some high praise at one of the soccer world’s most prestigious award ceremonies. The World Football Summit named club president Darren Eales the Executive of the Year, and gave Mercedes-Benz Stadium the award for Best Venue. It was the first time ever a club has won in two different categories, and the first time an MLS team had been recognized at the ceremony. Domestically, it was two more trophies at the prestigious Sports Business Awards. Atlanta United beat out teams from all pro leagues to win “Sports Team of the Year,” while Mercedes-Benz Stadium was honored as “Sports Facility of the Year.” Atlanta United is just the second MLS team ever to win the award.