The curtain came down on the inaugural season for Atlanta United Thursday night as they fell to the visiting Columbus Crew on penalties after playing to a 0-0 draw after extra time. We are not going to revisit that game, though. As exciting and end-to-end as it was — one of the best 0-0s you’re ever likely to see -- there’s really no need to rehash it. Instead, let’s take a look at the 4 things we learned about Atlanta United over the course of it’s first season of existence.
It was a good season and far from “Atlanta”
Honestly, screw all the people who want to keep this trope going. The “that’s so Atlanta” phrase that insinuates a choke job or whatever you want to call it is already being wrongly applied to this team. This Atlanta United team was only the fourth ever expansion side in MLS history to make the playoffs. They beat out the 2009 Seattle Sounders points per game mark with 1.62 PPG compared to 2009 Seattle’s 1.56.
And in the end, they lost to a team that, for all intents and purposes, matched them this season in the table (Columbus tallied one point less than Atlanta this season). And the deciding match played that out, with both teams battling in equal measure for 120 minutes before it was decided on penalties. This wasn’t a choke job. It was a narrow loss to a team about as good as them. It was sports.
That’s not to say it’s not a disappointing way to end the season, because it definitely is. Atlanta had a talented squad that showed that they were very capable of competing with the best teams in the league. It’s heartbreaking to see the team’s season end, but in the end, every fan base bar one is going to feel the same way. Are they all choke jobs too? Of course not. Anyway, had to get that off my chest.
Atlanta is set up for extended success
So many have pointed out, rightly, that Atlanta is a team that burst onto the scene and assembled one of the finest initial rosters for an expansion franchise that the league has scene. This required significant investment, and it’s also true that we may lose some of those players either this offseason or in years to come. But Atlanta is built to succeed for a long time, long after Miguel Almiron, long after Tata Martino, and long after whoever replaces him. That’s because of the infrastructure that’s in place to develop and produce home grown talent from right here in Georgia. This has less to do with the physical facilities, like the state-of-the-art training center, and more with the systems and networking in place that will allow the club to pull talent from a very wide catchment area. That’s not to say the facilities don’t play a part in this — they absolutely do. But the entire system, as currently headed up by Tony Annan, will continue to bear fruit, especially as the sport grows in popularity with kids who now see a clear path to the professional game.
The players love playing here, and Atlanta is a destination
With Tata Martino as manager, when it comes to player recruitment, it’s as if Atlanta is playing with a Game Genie (aka we have cheat codes). Tata Martino is obviously a world-renowned manager, and most players from South America would love to have a chance to play under him. Just look at Miguel Almrion:
Tata on why he wanted Almiron: “Because he was the best player in Argentina.”
Almiron on why Atlanta: “Because when Tata calls and asks you to come, you don’t say no.”
So that’s one reason. But another is something nobody could’ve envisioned this time last year, which is that players want to come play in front of these fans. They want to train everyday at a world-class facility. They want to live in a multi-cultural city that gives them space to breathe. All of these factors have melded together to the point where this club has an advantage above most other teams in MLS.
The Dirty South Soccer readers are amazing
This is something I’ve learned this year. You guys are amazing. I love reading your points in the comments and interacting and debating with y’all. You guys are the reason that our whole staff here loves to do this (If you read Deadspin, you’ll know it’s not for the pay). We love soccer, and we love talking about it with others who share that passion. It keep us going, and we hope you stick with us through the offseason and beyond. We will not be slowing down... in fact, I need to go set my google alerts so we can start collecting those South American reports.
Thanks again for a great season y’all.