Long after the confetti is cleared and the champagne is cleaned up, Saturday is a night that will live long in the memory of everyone in the city of Atlanta. 23 years after the Atlanta Braves last lifted a championship for this city, the Five Stripes brought the city back to glory. In front of a crowd that left the world stunned, Atlanta United was crowned MLS Cup champions.
But before they could do that, they had to get past a Portland Timbers side that they’d never beaten before. But Tata Martino had found the balance that had worked so well so far in the postseason, so he lined up his squad the same way he has during United’s entire unbelievable postseason run: Brad Guzan (GK), Greg Garza (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Franco Escobar (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Eric Remedi (CM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Miguel Almirón (FWD), Josef Martinez (FWD).
Portland is a formidable opponent, but it was the clear from the start that this was Atlanta United’s night to shine. After a tense opening few minutes, it was Miguel Almirón who nearly took the lead. Julian Gressel fought through pressure to find Greg Garza open down the left wing, whose cross fell to the feet of the Paraguayan #10. Almirón made a strong connection with the ball and it was headed for the net, only to be kept out by a fingertip save.
But just before halftime, Atlanta United showed they wouldn’t be denied. It all started with a tackle, as Michael Parkhurst put incredible pressure on the Timbers attacker, slide tackling the ball into the path of Josef Martinez behind the Timbers defense. The 2018 MVP was lethal from there, putting the goalkeeper on the ground and rounding him to rifle home the opener.
The eventual match-winner was a massive moment for sure, but there was an equally crucial play just moments later on the others side of the pitch. After a dominant spell in the first half, the Timbers’ lethal counter-attack almost created a goal out of nothing with Jeremy Ebobisse getting his head to a point-blank effort. But Brad Guzan came up with a massive save just before the halftime whistle to preserve Atlanta United’s lead heading into the break.
Coming into the second half, it was still a precarious one-goal lead for the Five Stripes. But roared on by Atlanta’s unbelievable atmosphere they all but shut the door minutes into the second half. It came off a set piece, with Josef Martinez getting a glancing header on the cross and Franco Escobar sliding home the second goal of the night to give Atlanta a crucial insurance goal.
From there, it was up to the crowd to carry the team through the final moments with one of the best atmospheres ever seen in an MLS Cup Final. In all, 73,019 people turned Mercedes-Benz Stadium into a cauldron of noise, the biggest crowd every for an MLS match. Tito Villalba, Ezequiel Barco and Chris McCann brought fresh legs to help the Five Stripes hold on, but by the end there was only one team that could bring home the Cup. With one blow of the final whistle, Atlanta’s 23-year trophy drought ended, and after a night of champagne, confetti and celebrations, Atlanta United was named the 2018 MLS Cup Champion.
Make sure you’re there to show how much this team means to you at a special victory parade and celebration on Monday. Click here for all the latest details on that.