Atlanta United defeated Chicago Fire 2-1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The five stripes broke attendance records, notched a key win, and officially qualified for their first-ever CONCACAF Champions League.
Atlanta United set new Major League Soccer records with a total home attendance of 901,033 and a single-season average of 53,002 after a crowd of 71,812 packed out The Benz for their final 2018 regular season match. That single-season average ranks 17th in the world based on the 2017-18 season, ahead of Italy’s AC Milan. Sunday’s crowd also was the sixth-largest for a single-match in league history. Atlanta owns the top-seven most-attended matches in MLS history. The team’s July 15, 2018 match vs Seattle Sounders is the record at 72,243.
“Our guys did well,” said Michael Parkhurst. “We had to make a few changes from our previous two games but a really good performance today against a Chicago team that played very well.”
In the 8′, Ezequiel Barco was sprinting across the middle and fired a beautiful long ball cross-pitch to Franco Escobar. Flying down the right flank, Escobar attempted a low cross to Josef Martinez but just missed his boots. The ball deflected back to Escobar so he decided to fire a low shot to the far post that beat Chicago Fire goalkeeper Patrick McLain. This was Escobar’s first goal of the season.
In the 25′, Chicago’s Michael de Leeuw beat Atlanta’s offside trap and scored a beautiful goal with a light touch to the far corner. But just a minute later while Atlanta was in attack, Chris McCann sent a low cross that initially looked like a simple save for McLain but turned into a nightmare. Fire center back Johan Kappelhof slid in an attempt to block the ball but the deflection turned into an own goal. Just like that, Atlanta United was back on top 2-1.
With so much surrounding today’s win, it’s possible for things to get overshadowed. Franco Escobar scored his first-ever MLS goal, the club tied the MLS regular season points record with 69, Greg Garza returned to the team sheet, and Lagos Kunga made the first-team sheet for the first time. While George Bello has been in incredible form, Tata thought it too big a risk to play the young lad who just returned from international duty.
“It’s been good (national team play), playing for my country has been great, it’s just a part of being a professional athlete,” said an elated Bello. “Feels great to be able to make the playoffs and to do it with my bros (Kunga) so it’s good. Training is going well, this is a great time of year, and I’m looking forward to the playoffs.”
I asked the other young homegrown what was going through his head when he saw his name on the team sheet for the first time. “There was a lot going through my mind!” said a jubilant Lagos Kunga. “Today’s my birthday, I’m on the 18, I might come in anytime, I was happy and all that… It was just a lot.”
The 2019 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League will be the 11th edition of the competition under its current name, and the 54th overall edition of the premier club competition organized by CONCACAF. Next year’s tournament will feature a total of 16 teams from CONCACAF regions, comprised of nine teams from the North American Zone (four teams from Mexico, four from the United States, one from Canada), five teams from the Central American Zone (one berth each from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama) and one team from the Caribbean Zone (winner of the Caribbean Club Championship). The final spot goes to the winner of the CONCACAF League, a regional tournament between the Central American and Caribbean Football Unions. The international competition will be drawn in December, while play will begin in February 2019.
Atlanta United’s final match of the regular season is next Sunday, October 28 against Toronto FC in Toronto.