Fans anxiously crowded into Bobby Dodd Stadium for the second match in three weeks, this time hoping to see their beloved Atlanta United secure its first home victory. The team made sure the fans went home Saturday with something to cheer about, trouncing the Chicago Fire 4-0. Here are three things we learned from the match, as quoted by fellow fans I’ve talked to following the match:
“Josef Martinez is too good for MLS”
This is the answer I got from a friend when I asked what his prevailing thought was from the game. And to be honest, it’s hard to argue at the moment. Is it hyperbole? Maybe. But perhaps it’s humility that keeps us from actually believing he’s in a different class from the majority of MLS. He’s gotten his fair share of love from much of the national media, but few are willing to be as direct as I’m going to be right now.
Josef Martinez is currently the top striker in MLS.
Those who watched him closely today will realize what a talent he is. First, his technique and dribbling ability in tight spaces is of the highest quality you’ll see in the country. He’s small but he’s physical as hell. He wins aerial duels, and he holds the ball up. He’s quick as lightning, almost always beating defenders to 50-50 balls. But what I like most about him is his tenaciousness. Martinez is always challenging for the ball – always looking to get behind defenders, even if he’s dragged wider than he’d like. His work rate shouldn’t be ignored, and combined with his physical tools, the sky is the limit for the Venezuelan. He already leads MLS in goal scoring, and it’s hard to see his production slowing down much if he stays healthy.
“But it’s a tiny sample size,” they’ll say.
“He’s played against 10-men, and in the snow,” they’ll say.
I scoff at this, and it leads me to my next point.
“It's time to stop downplaying Atlanta's accomplishments”
I’m sick of people poo-pooing what Atlanta has done (on the field) based off extenuating circumstances. Last week, MLS media seemed more enamored with Minnesota United’s ineptitude than Atanta United’s clinical ruthlessness. This week, I expect to hear people caveat the result with the fact that Atlanta was playing against 10 men for most of the match. But this disregards the fact that 1) Atlanta’s attack forced the errors from Minnesota and Chicago and 2) the Five Stripes were clinical and made the most of the advantages they created in those matches. Particularly against Chicago, Atlanta completely dominated the match before and after the red card to Johan Kappelhof in the 11th minute. If the 935-192 (not a typo) passing advantage isn’t enough evidence, then maybe the fact that Leandro Gonzalez Pirez had more completed passes than Chicago’s entire squad lets you know just how much Atlanta dominated this match.
Chicago Fire is a good team with a solid spine, yet Atlanta exposed them. It’s entirely possible that, due to injuries and general depth, Atlanta might not finish with the best record in MLS. But if this team makes the playoffs (which I’m more certain than ever that they will), then they will be one of the teams to beat in the playoffs. Atlanta’s starting XI challenges any team in MLS.
“This crowd is legit”
On Dirty South Soccer and elsewhere, fan behavior in Bobby Dodd Stadium has been a hot topic. As someone who was in the crowd for both home matches, I thought the atmosphere Saturday was much more natural, while no less intense. Everyone in the supporters’ section had a game’s worth of experience and knew what to expect coming into Saturday. Lo and behold, everything flowed more organically. I heard less of “the chant that shall not be named,” and there seemed to be more unity in the chants that the capos lead today. Fight me on the thunderclap, it’s legit af. Same with the “Atlanta-United” chant which divides the stadium. It was amazing to see another sold out house of 45,900+ packing Bobby Dodd on a glorious spring afternoon. The atmosphere these fans experience + the performance of the team makes for a happy customer and someone who can’t wait for the next game.