MLS SOCCER

Atlanta United breaks city’s championship drought

 

Yes, it is real. It happened. It counts.

 

Saturday night in front of 73,019 screaming and chanting fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta United won the city’s first championship in 23 years.

 

It began like most opportunities this city has had at a title; difficult and nerve-racking.

 

Atlanta United opened the match on fire and ready to pounce. In just the third minute Franco Escobar crossed to Josef Martinez for a near opportunity.

 

The Portland Timbers came out on the attack. They pressed Atlanta early and opted for a physical style of play.

 

With Atlanta dominating possession early, goal opportunities continue to open up with Atlanta missing based on ill-advised passing or heavy foot on the ball. Meanwhile, Portland quietly took quick runs and close free kicks to create opportunities for Diego Valeri and Jeremy Ebobisse.

 

The physical style of play began to wear on both teams thirty minutes into the match as writer Joe Patrick noted:

As play continued the Five Stripes gave Atlanta fans scare after scare. Keeper Brad Guzan cleared a ball low allowing Portland to head the ball now and almost take a goal, but it sailed high out of play. Crisis averted.

 

Then it finally happened. A tackle by Captain Michael Parkhurst skipped the ball right to Josef Martinez in the eighteen-yard box. Martinez allowed keeper Jeff Attinella to come out of the goal and slipped the shot right by him. Atlanta up 1-0.

Just four minutes later the packed crowd was sent into shock over the heroics of Guzan once again. Ebobisse took a header towards the goal and Guzan stretched full length to save the shot by his fingertips.

The massive save slowed the game down to half where Atlanta still held the one goal lead.

Then came the second half and worry of a plagued city who, too often, has seen late game heroics ruin opportunities for championships.

Instead, this time Atlanta continued to be aggressive(AKA ran the ball).

In the 54′, on a free kick taken by Miguel Almiron, the ball sailed high and bounced of Martinez’s head down to the foot of Franco Escobar. Escobar slid towards the ball, spearing it into the goal for Atlanta’s second goal.

The 2-0 lead was comfortable to everyone except Atlanta fans who understood “the curse.”

Minutes ticked off the clock slower than water coming to a boil with the fear that a two-goal lead would be wiped away.

Only this time it was different. Substitutions were made in the 76′ and finally in the 90′. It was at this point that the crowd and Atlanta as a city knew it was really happening.

A trophy raised. The confetti fell.

Champagne was spewed in the locker room with young media members who had never experienced the feeling and older members who had forgotten all looking on with pure joy.

Then came an experience that the city of Atlanta has not seen since the Braves in 1995; a parade.

The route began down Baker Street passing by the Georgia Aquarium, Centennial Olympic Park, and ending at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Local estimations set the parade attendance at close to 200,000 fans.

All the excitement culminated at the newly opened Home Depot Backyard where Atlanta officials, United staff, and players had an opportunity to speak.

The highlight of the ceremonies was easily Atlanta United president Darren Eales who ended his speech quoting Atlanta-legend Andre 3000.

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