Yet another historic day for soccer in Atlanta as the Five Stripes equaled the all-time MLS points record with a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire in front more than 70,000 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday.
With Miguel Almirón and Tito Villalba ruled out of the match through injury, Atlanta United came into a crucial match a little short-handed in their league-best attack. But with an arsenal of players at his disposal, Tata Martino shuffled the pack to put out a strong lineup nonetheless: Brad Guzan (GK), Chris McCann (DEF), Leandro González Pirez (DEF), Michael Parkhurst (DEF), Franco Escobar (DEF), Eric Remedi (MID), Julian Gressel (MID), Darlington Nagbe (MID), Andrew Carleton (FWD), Ezequiel Barco (FWD), Josef Martinez (FWD).
The Five Stripes started off red-hot, and they made the pressure count early –– and it was a goal from an unlikely source that got on the scoreboard first. It started with a little magic on the left wing from Ezequiel Barco, who beat a man on the dribble and burst into space into the middle of the field and laying an incisive pass onto the foot of Franco Escobar open in the right corner of the box. The Argentine defender looked for the cross into Martinez, but it was blocked back to his foot. Escobar’s instinct took over from there, smacking a first-time, left-footed effort through a crowd of bodies and inside the far post.
The Fire didn’t go down easily, and they would equalize fifteen minutes later after a quick passing play and a tap-in in the box. But Atlanta United countered with a punch of their own just minutes after the restart. This time it was Andrew Carleton dancing into space on the left wing, playing it down the line to the on-rushing Chris McCann. The Irishman whipped in a dangerous ball into the area, and Chicago’s Johan Kappelhof could only divert it into his own net.
Without two key creators in the midfield, a win in a match with massive Supporters’ Shield implications was nothing short of critical. In just a one-point gap at the top with New York Red Bulls nipping at the 5-Stripes' heels, three points have never been so important. Jeff Larentowicz and Kevin Kratz came in to solidify the midfield and helped steady the ship against a plucky Fire side that was out for a result. But the Five Stripes took care of business, holding out for a solid 2-1 win.
The result put the red, black and gold up to 69 points on the season, equaling the all-time MLS record for points in a season. It also officially clinched qualification in next year’s Concacaf Champions League, the team’s first appearance in international competition. There was also history made in the stands, where the 901,033th fan of the season was in attendance, setting a new MLS record for total attendance in a season, an all-time best 53,002 people per match.
The Red Bulls result in Philadelphia meant the Supporters’ Shield could not be won on the day, so that leaves it all to play for on the final matchday next weekend. The Five Stripes travel to Toronto with a win enough to secure the first silverware in team history. They’ll be back at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 11th for their first match of the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, so make sure you’ve reserved your tickets here.