Enjoy it, y’all, this is going to be terrible.
Not this piece -- well, probably, I make no promises -- but, you know, this.
Since the whistle sounded Sunday, the running monologue in my head has consisted solely of “oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god why god? oh god oh god oh god oh god do we have to? oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god how did this glass of bourbon get in my hand?” or something of the like.
The first playoff game in Atlanta United history won’t happen for another day, but my stomach is already trying to swallow itself and if I weren’t reminding myself to breathe every ten minutes I’m not sure I’d be writing this. Other teams I’ve followed have played in massive games but this feels different somehow. Is it actually any different from any Braves/Hawks/Falcons playoff game from the past few years? I’m not entirely sure. But there’s something lurking behind the nerves that almost (almost.) feels like optimism. Which is stupid.
I should know better.
Any premonition of a Jeff Larentowicz title-winning goal is accompanied by memories of Craig Kimbrel stuck in the bullpen, the NYPD tackling Thabo Sefolosha and with the Falcons...well...I don’t need to talk about it. Like most of y’all I’ve been “Clockwork Oranged” into knowing what’s coming next with Atlanta sports. But somehow a sliver of optimism keeps flickering in and out of frame.
I. SHOULD. KNOW. BETTER.
But did you know home teams are 11-1 in knockout round games since 2012? There’s round one. You’ve seen how we hang with Toronto, right? They aren’t invincible. We were a Giovinco worldie away from a win. We didn’t even have LGP and Miggy barely played. DID YOU KNOW MIGUEL FREAKING ALMIRON IS BACK? Make a big statement at home in leg one. Win big. So big they can’t climb back. That’s all for round two. The rest of the east? Frauds. You’re telling me NYCFC (+13), Chicago (+14), Red Bulls (+6) can compete over two legs with a team that ended the season with the 4th best goal differential of all time (+30)?? Conference final=Easy. Then some trash-fire from the West? In Atlanta? On that pitch? In front of 75k plus? Are you kidding me? Why even play the game? Five Stripes by a billion-and-a-half for the title it won’t even be close we’re the greatest team in the universe and oh god oh god oh god what am I thinking?
Columbus is good. They can score. They have fan base desperate for some positive news. We’re going to come out tight. There’s too much pressure. We’re favored and that makes us overconfident. We’re going to lose. And then if by some miracle we beat them we face Toronto. TORONTO. The best team in MLS history. Were they even trying Sunday? They couldn’t have been, right? They were toying with us. Like a lion with its prey. We’re going to lose. There’s next-to-zero chance we make it past Toronto but if we luck into the next team won’t be any easier. We’re going to lose. Maybe, we make it past that and into MLS Cup but we all know how that story ends. We’ve watched Atlanta sports. We’re going to lose and it’s so, so very obvious.
But then again, Miggy is back.
This is going to be terrible. Every shot from someone not in red, black and gold is going to roundhouse kick your heart in the throat. Every single call will NOT go our way. And you’re going to begin noticing things like the fact that THEIR GOAL IS AT LEAST 12 FEET WIDER THAN OURS WHY DID NO ONE CHECK BEFOREHAND HOW AM I THE ONLY ONE SEEING THIS.
And frankly, if the worst occurs and we do lose Thursday, it’s going to be disappointing. We’re the better team. The crowd will be downright raucous. Everyone is picking us to win.
Do y’all realize how insane that is? Imagine thinking three years ago -- hell, even six months ago -- this team would not only be in the playoffs year one, but that they’d be playing in front of 70,000 people and they would be favored.
It shouldn’t be that way. It wasn’t supposed to be anyway.
“Bad sports town.” “Not a soccer city.” “Expansion team.” “Something something lazy joke about plastic fans.” “Atlanta sports.”
Everyone heard it. None of it mattered. And this city should be immeasurably proud.
I’d like to think that in the way none of the pre-season predictions mattered with this team, the ever present ghosts of Atlanta-past won’t either.
Then again, there’s a good chance we lose Thursday.
Then again. Miggy is back.
Thursday will be a hydrogen bomb of nerves. The lows and highs will be extreme. The greatest city in the world will be holding its collective breath. Every moment will have your heart clawing at your chest, but man...think about how unlikely it was that we’d care this much in the first place.
Enjoy it y’all. It’s going to be terrible. I can’t wait.