Atlanta United Starting XI: 4-2-3-1
Alec Kann, Leandro González Pirez, Greg Garza, Tyrone Mears, Michael Parkhurst, Julian Gressel, Héctor Villalba, Yamil Asad, Miguel Almirón, Carlos Carmona, Josef Martinez
The day had finally come for Atlanta to unite and conquer, as Atlanta United FC took on New York Red Bulls for their first-ever MLS match. The game was played at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium as Mercedes-Benz Stadium is nearing completion. The match wasn’t just sold out on paper, the crowd was thunderous from Techwood Drive to inside the stadium. Young Joc and Terminus Legion hammered down the Golden Tack while singer Monica took care of the National Anthem. If you’re wondering how much more ATL this club opener could be, 55,000+ people began singing Archie Eversole’s “We Ready!” word-for-word.
In the first 15′ the Red Bulls looked like the more seasoned team, which is understandable under the circumstances. United’s passing was sparse and their backline was being tested in waves. Within the first few minutes, Leandro González Pirez and Tyrone Mears had their hands full on defense, having to clear crosses and through-balls left and right.
The tempo and fluidity changed for United around the 20′. The giveaways had decreased and the midfield was able to maintain the ball. That combination of vision and good first-touches paid off in the 26′. The same player to score the first goal in Chattanooga, Yamil Asad, scored the club’s first official MLS goal off a beautiful low cross from Tyrone Mears.
NY got their first real chance when Sacha Kljestan launched a beautiful cross to Bradley Wright-Phillips but his header went just passed the post.
The first yellow card of the match came in the 39′ when Sal Zizzo clipped Yamil Asad from behind, following a back pass.
The second half looked like a completely different match was being played compared to the first. The confidence in United was apparent as players fought harder for balls and seemed fearless chasing headers.
The Red Bulls nabbed their first goal from a late corner in the 75′. Up to that point, Alec Kann had been saving the home side from impending doom. Daniel Royer nailed the header cleanly into the top corner thanks to slopping defending. For all of United’s technical ability and finesse, their one visible weakness was size.
In the 80′ Anton Walkes and Jeff Larentowicz made their way into the game. But not too soon after the substitution, New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips was on the receiving end of a beautiful low cross in front of goal that was tapped in.
Tata must’ve noticed the height disparity on the field too because he took off Tito Villalba and opted for Trinidadian giant Kenwyne Jones.
A moment of madness occurred on an erroneous foul. While Martinez was stretching out the Red Bull player, Carlos Carmona accused the player on his back of time wasting, which resulted in a shocking red card ejection. This is not the home-opener United had hoped for. Especially since everything New York did after the 85′ was timewasting.
During the match, MLS Commissioner Dan Garber was hopeful about the club. “I’m not speechless very often, but I’m speechless now,” said Garber, referring to the attendance of their season opener. “Arthur Blank and I were talking back in 2008, and he said back then and again tonight, that this is a great sports town. The young people and the diversity will benefit (from United). This is another jewel in the crown of this city.”
It wasn’t the fairytale ending the club had hoped for but the potential is there. With more time and practice, chemistry will build and the club will be a formidable opponent in the Eastern Conference.
Atlanta United fell 2-1 in their inaugural game, but the one thing that will be remembered from tonight was the incredible atmosphere at Bobby Dodd. It truly felt like Grant Field turned into Stamford Bridge (Chelsea FC’s stadium).