Atlanta United stole the show
After finding out late Friday night that Lionel Messi had chose to stay home and eat “pizza” instead of traveling to Atlanta for a marquee matchup in one of the crown jewel venues of MLS, roughly 70,000 fans nonetheless flooded Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday evening. Almost all of these people had paid good money — in some cases VERY good money — to see an elite soccer product. Turns out they got it, thanks to the display put on by the home side in a 5-2 win for Atlanta United over Inter Miami.
It was as important of a performance as we’ve seen from the Five Stripes in years. Since covid, there has not been a singular game with this level of expectations from the media and massive crowd. And Atlanta United, a team that has had its fair share of stops and starts throughout this season, delivered in the most most striking way. Lets talk some more about how they did that.
Atlanta United showed resilience
For as great as the win and performance was across the 90 minutes, it was hardly smooth sailing. And despite a weakened Miami team without Messi and Jordi Alba, and without Josef Martinez for everything but a late cameo in front of his beloved fan base, there was no feeling in the building that Tata Martino’s team would come in and simply lie down. There is too much respect for Marino himself from the adoring fans for that to be the expectation, and the feeling became tangible when Leo Campana sombrero flicked Miles Robinson and fired past Brad Guzan on the full volley to give the visitors a 1-0 lead in the first half.
So many times this season, we’ve seen Atlanta unable to regain a foothold in the game from this position. It hasn’t been for lack of trying, but for lack of talent and cohesiveness. Saturday showed that they have both of those in spades — storming back with three goals in rapid succession to close out the half a take a lead from which they would never look back.
If you want to consider yourself a team that has an opportunity to win things, the team must have confidence that in can rally from disadvantageous positions against the best teams just like Atlanta did Saturday.
Atlanta United showed off its array of talent
What allowed Atlanta United to come back? Better players, of course. The team now has quality through the midfield and forward lines, through the additions of Tristan Muyumba, Xande Silva, Saba Lobjanidze and others, which creates a new dynamic for opponents to play against. There are no glaring glaring weaknesses in the team. And Atlanta isn’t just improved by the injection of quality in and of itself, but also by virtue of the fact that these new players are enhancing the skillset and playing style of the ones who were already here. Saturday saw the best of Matheus Rossetto, Luis Abram, Brooks Lennon, and more.
But at the same time, how about these new boys? Xande Silva was a menace — constantly running at opponents off the left flank and making things happen, as evidenced by the own goal he forced to put Atlanta United in the lead. But my favorite sequence was this one in the second half, which showcased the skills and how these players can combine.
Xande Silva > Thiago Almada > Saba > Giakoumakis. Just how Garth Lagerwey drew it up in his mind’s eye.
Atlanta United created a party
In an alternate world without some of these signings and improvements to the team, you could envision the reaction and headlines. Without the performance Atlanta put on display, the headlines and talking points would be all about the Messi disappointment and, for Atlanta United, potentially more disparaging commentary.
In the real world, Mercedes-Benz Stadium was bouncing. It was alive. That’s the kind of human connection that good sports, when played at a high level, create. I saw it the following day as well when the Falcons roared back from a 12-point fourth quarter deficit to beat the Packers. The stadium has a new feel to it. For too long, again, since covid, it’s been a cavernous dwelling for Atlanta United that is missing that je ne se quois. Well, the magic is back.
And while fans have a part to play in creating that atmosphere, the responsibility is equally on the players. The players and teams that perform in the venue have to deliver for the fans as much as vice versa. That is not fair-weather syndrome, that’s just facts. And as a fan, it’s a glorious feeling to know you’ve got a team that you know can deliver the goods you’ve been so desperately seeking for so long.