An incredible season came to a disappointing end Thursday night as Atlanta United’s playoff run fell short in a penalty shootout at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
With team captain Michael Parkhurst still feeling the effects of the injury suffered against Toronto Sunday, he was the only one missing from head coach Tata Martino’s regular starting XI. Jeff Larentowicz slid into the back line while Miguel Almirón made his return to the starting XI after more than a month out with a hamstring injury. The full starting XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Chris McCann (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Jeff Larentowicz (CB), Anton Walkes (RB), Carlos Carmona (CM), Julian Gressel (CM), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Yamil Asad (LW), Josef Martinez (ST), Tito Villalba (RW).
Atlanta United started on the front foot, with Almirón almost taking the lead just over ten minutes in. Julian Gressel won possession and played it forward to Josef Martinez, who laid it back to Almirón. Miguel took a touch and curled a shot toward the top corner, but the Columbus keeper made a miraculous save to tip it onto the bar and out of the net.
After a tense stretch in which Brad Guzan came up huge to deny the Crew’s Pedro Santos, it was Leandro Pirez who tested the Columbus goalkeeper next just after halftime. After Atlanta won a free kick on the right wing, Pirez put a powerful header on frame and forced another great save out of the Crew goalkeeper.
Atlanta almost clinched a signature late win just before the final whistle. An error among the Columbus back line let Josef Martinez behind the defense in the 94th minute. He laid the ball off to Tito Villalba, who hit a powerful shot on frame but not enough to beat the Crew goalkeeper.
With nothing between the sides after 90 minutes, the match went to a tense 30 minutes of extra time. Captain Michael Parkhurst, who had come into the game late into the second half, was the hero of extra time. After a dangerous cross left Brad Guzan stranded, Parkhurst stepped up with the game on the line, clearing the ball off the line dribbling toward the net.
The score was still knotted at 0-0 after 120 minutes, so the game continued to penalty kicks. The Columbus goalkeeper, who stood between Atlanta and the next round all night, came up again in penalty kicks, and Atlanta United fell by a 3-1 score line in penalties.
While it wasn’t the ending to the season the club was looking for, the fans showed up as they have time and time again throughout their incredible year. 67,221 Five Stripes fans filled Mercedes-Benz Stadium – the best ever crowd for an MLS Cup playoff game – for yet another record-breaking crowd of the season.