A-T-L…A-T-L…A-T-L still rings in the ears of all those who attended last night’s Major League Soccer home opener for Atlanta United as they faced last year’s Eastern Conference regular season champions, New York Red Bulls. An incredibly loud atmosphere and two gritty sides fostered quite the competitive match, but in the end, it was RBNY who took the 2-1 comeback victory. Though certainly not the preferred result in the inaugural match, a 55,297-sellout crowd at Bobby Dodd Stadium proved that soccer is alive and well in Atlanta.
Head coach Tata Martino fielded a familiar XI witnessed in the ATL UTD preseason with Alec Kann (GK), Greg Garza (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Tyrone Mears (RB), Julian Gressel (CM), Carlos Carmona (CM), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Yami Asad (LW), Tito Villalba (RW) and Josef Martinez (ST).
Atlanta United started strong, implementing Tata’s possession-oriented, high-press style of play and within 25 minutes they had their moment, one that will forever be remembered. Mears received the ball on the right flank and glanced up to see a crashing trio of Martinez, Garza and Asad into the box. The right back sent a curling cross into the danger area, bypassing the Red Bulls defensive personnel, and landing at the back post where Yamil Asad met the ball with his left foot, smashing it first-time between the goalkeeper’s legs and striking the back of the net. It was only fitting that the club’s first-ever goal occurred in front of the supporters section full of the Atlanta faithful who could bask together with the team in the glory of the moment.
It was the home side that dominated in both possession and created more chance in the first half, but the score line remained 1-0 to Atlanta’s advantage as the halftime whistle blew.
The second half was more balanced with the match opening up and both teams creating an abundance of opportunities in the final third. In the 76th minute, RBNY grabbed their equalizer from a Daniel Royer header off a Sacha Kljestan cross. Just six minutes later, New York scored their go-ahead goal, a Red Bulls shot deflected in the net by Atlanta United defender Anton Walkes for an own goal.
Sunday night was a chippy game to say the least. The intensity of the game continued to amplify over the course of the match, eventually leading to a red card issued to Carlos Carmona, leaving Atlanta United playing with 10 men for the final few minutes of the match.
The final whistle arrived with New York upholding the 2-1 lead, though everyone who spectated last night would agree that the result could have gone either way. Regardless of the outcome, Atlanta’s players and fans demonstrated that they will be a force to be reckoned with in MLS.
Atlanta United will continue their inaugural season next weekend as they travel up north and go head-to-head with fellow 2017 expansion side Minnesota United. The match is set to kickoff at 5:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 12 and will be nationally televised on ESPN2.
Next Home Match - Saturday, March 18 vs Chicago Fire