As Atlanta United enters the final matchweek of the regular season, and with the club’s first trophy on the line, there’s a feeling in the locker room that every match left is one of the most important in club history. And that showed in the mentality this weekend against the Chicago Fire.
“It was huge,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan after the match. “We said before this game, ‘Whatever it takes.’ Today was the final. We had to win. You assume Red Bulls are going to win, and you need to put yourself in a position to win the trophy.”
And that’s just what the Five Stripes did, taking care of business against a sturdy Chicago team that made them work for a hard-fought 2-1 win in the final home match of the regular season. That’s thanks in no small part part to the excellent return to the starting lineup for Franco Escobar, who scored his first goal in the red, black and gold.
“Obviously, it was very difficult, especially with everything that was at stake,” he said, through a translator. “All we could do on our part was to win the game. It was tough. At that point, you start to get some nerves knowing everything that is on the line. But we did our part in a game where we are missing two pretty big absences with Miguel (Almirón) and Tito (Villalba). But this team is made where every guy is ready to step up. We were able to fill in for them and put in a good effort.”
Those absences are certainly key players for Atlanta United, and a lesser team would have faltered without such electric attacking players in the side. But as Escobar said, this team has players ready to step up. And Julian Gressel thinks the team will be better for it in the long run.
“We have some different characteristics of players out there on the pitch, but we ultimately found a way to score two goals and that’s all that matters. We will learn a lot from this game, and we will see how those guys will recover for next week. If they are out again, then I’m sure we will be better because of today’s match.”
Thanks to that result, Atlanta United equaled the all-time record for points in an MLS season. But the goal is still hardware over history, and that means all is left to play for with a one-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield race for the Five Stripes heading into the final match. But the players are confident in the position they’ve left themselves.
“You put yourself in a position to control your own destiny, and that’s what we’ve done,” Parkhurst said. “We’ve got quite an opportunity in front of us next week. We stress that you don’t get these opportunities too often in soccer, or sports in general, to go out there and win not only one trophy, but multiple trophies in a season. So we want to take advantage of that now. We want to live in the present. We’re not complacent at all. We don’t underestimate any team, so we’re going to go up there to Toronto full of confidence and looking to get a (win).”
“When you win trophies, it is never easy,” Guzan added. “This is another case of being to roll up our sleeves and go on the road to a tough place like Toronto and get a win.”
The final match of the season is a chance for history in two ways, with the all-time MLS points record up for grabs as well as the first trophy in Atlanta United history in the Supporters’ Shield race. That game kicks off at 4:30p.m. Sunday from BMO Field in Toronto on Fox Sports South.