ATLANTA – It was one of the most special afternoons Mercedes-Benz Stadium has ever seen.
It all started with a warm embrace between two of Atlanta United goalkeepers, first team’s Brad Guzan and Unified Team’s Shaq Pinson. Instead of wearing his traditional kit, Guzan was suited up by the sideline pumping out the crowd for Atlanta United vs Inter Miami CF Unified Match, presented by Gallagher.
It was a 7 v 7 match which took place three hours before Atlanta and Miami’s first teams took the pitch for Week 32 of the MLS regular season. In the stands, associates from The Blank Family of Businesses joined the Unified Team players’ families to cheer for Atlanta United Special Olympics Unified Team’s last match of the season.
Atlanta United’s Vice President and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra joined Guzan to witness what promised to be a very exciting encounter, which delivered immediately. At the second minute of the match, as if it was a prophecy Atlanta United Unified’s number 17 Brendan Jagielski scored the opening goal after a breakaway by Joe Villar.
Villar ran through the left wing and after dribbling past one defender and Miami’s goalkeeper passed the ball towards the center of the box and Jagielski’s shot got deflected by an opposing defender to lead the way for the 5-Stripes. The goal was felt throughout Mercedes-Benz Stadium and little by little Atlanta United’s first team players and technical staff began to populate the benches to enjoy the match as a family, signifying what it means to wear the badge: One Team. One Club.
Miami tried to respond but Pinson had an amazing save at the eighth minute following a good play which forced him to react quickly and prevent a goal in two consecutive shots. The 5-Stripes continued to push through and at the 15th minute David Wilkerson tried to chip Miami’s goalkeeper but his effort ended up getting lost inches away from the goal.
The first half ended but the celebration was just getting started as all of Atlanta United’s first team was cheering on the Unified Team by the stadium benches. Antonio Guzmán delivered a fiery speech and later joined his teammates to greet first team’s Josef Martínez and Ezequiel Barco for some photos and words of encouragement.
Two minutes into the second half Peter Reece scored the equalizer for Inter Miami after a series of rebounds in Atlanta United’s box, but 10 minutes later Atlanta United Unified Team’s partner Martin Luna gave the 5-Stripes the advantage once again. Luna, who was also tasked with singing the National Anthem prior to the Unified and MLS matches, broke through the center of the pitch and as the goalkeeper was coming out, he slid to quickly tap the ball in.
The advantage for Atlanta United increased once again when Dylan Lenze scored a banger at the 35th minute from a few yards wide sending straight to the top left corner past Miami’s goalkeeper. The goal was vibrantly cheered on by the whole first team players who were still present by the bench.
Inter Miami’s Daniel Alonso managed to score a second goal for his team after he dribbled through two of Atlanta’s defenders at the 38th minute. However, it wasn’t enough for the visiting team and the game ended with a 3-2 win for the 5-Stripes.
The victory was the first one for Atlanta United Unified Team since the 2017 season and the emotion spread through the entire stadium, leading up to the crucial first team match later in the night.