Tonight, Atlanta United defeated the reigning MLS Cup Champions in 4-2 dazzling fashion in their second match of the 2017 Carolina Challenge Cup. Though most of Seattle’s regular starters came off the bench, Atlanta’s two goals in the first three minutes coupled with two more miraculous goals proved to be a promising performance for the MLS expansion club. With a total of six goals, seven yellow cards, and an ejection, calling the game eventful would be an understatement.
Atlanta United’s starting XI looked quite familiar with the goalkeeper and the back line consistent throughout all three of the club’s preseason matches so far with Alec Kann, Greg Garza, Leandro González Pirez, Michael Parkhurst, and Tyrone Mears. In the midfield, MLS veteran, Jeff Larentowicz, was joined by first round SuperDraft pick, Julian Gressel, who made his first start for the club. Miguel Almirón returned to a more central role, while Hector “Tito” Villalba remained on the right wing. Yamil Asad made his second appearance at left wing after missing the last match with a calf-related injury. Alone up top was 23-year-old Venezuelan Josef Martinez who entered this game as the only player to score in both preseason matches for Atlanta United.
Martinez’s diving header in the 6th minute of Saturday’s match seemed impressive until tonight when the striker spent less than 60 seconds on the field before dribbling past the keeper and scoring his third in three games. Moments later, Gressel was taken down in Seattle’s danger area, leading to an Atlanta spot kick slotted home by Almirón garnering a 2-0 score line in just three minutes.
As the half went on, Gressel continued to find himself on the ball, and eventually picked out an advancing Tito Villalba who zipped into the edge of the penalty area before netting Atlanta United’s third goal of the match. The strike was a product of an incredible amount of awareness and precision from Villalba who cleverly finished the play between the goalkeeper’s legs.
Halftime arrived with a 3-0 advantage to Atlanta United, but again it was Martinez who shot out of the gate at the start of the half and in just two minutes scored the dagger for his side. This time, instead of dancing around the goalkeeper, he lifted the ball over his head with a crafty chip which landed in the far side of the net.
The Sounders made some key changes in the second half which sparked a pair of goals from the Cascadian club. To add to the mix, Atlanta United’s Gressel was cautioned twice (yellow cards) which resulted in an ejection (red card) leaving Atlanta to play with ten men for the remainder of the match. However, in the end, Atlanta’s four goal lead powered by Martinez’s brace was too deep a deficit to overcome. While preseason is not indicative of the regular season or a team’s true caliber, defeating the defending MLS Cup Champions is still an achievement that will boost the morale and the energy surrounding the expansion team’s inaugural season.
Atlanta United will face the Charleston Battery on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET in their third and final match of the 2017 Carolina Challenge Cup at MUSC Health Stadium. A win for Atlanta and a loss/draw from Columbus would result in the first-ever piece of hardware for the club.
MARCH 5th Atlanta’s Inaugural MLS Home Opener is less than two weeks away. Fans will be raving, excitement will fill the city, and history will be made. Reserve your seat here. Tickets are limited.