You could probably count the number of empty seats in Bobby Dodd Stadium on Sunday night.
MLS arrived in Atlanta with a bang. Over 55,000 fans - a sellout - packed the venue on Sunday night to witness history being made. On the scoreboard: after a shaky first twenty minutes spent shaking off opening night jitters, Yamil Asad scored the historic first goal in club history in the 25th minute on a beautiful pass by Tyrone Mears. Unfortunately for Atlanta fans, Daniel Royer’s 76th minute goal leveled it at 1, followed by an own goal by substitute Anton Walkes which stood as the game-winner to stake RBNY to a 2-1 advantage.
There were some doubts about Asad coming into the season, but he put together a strong game - including the initial goal to put Atlanta on the board. The loss, though, made for a somber atmosphere in the locker room.
“I’m very excited to be a part of the history of the club, (however,) I was unhappy that we lost,” Asad said. “We played a good first half, but in the second half the level dropped a little.”
Despite that, Asad was very pleased with the crowd and the turnout, as well as the support of the fans. “It was fantastic,” he said. “I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win for the crowd.”
The importance of beating Minnesota United now looms large. With both expansion clubs facing defeat in their inaugural matches, neither will want to go 0-2.
“We have all week to train and work on some things we didn’t do well tonight,” he said. “We’re going to go out against Minnesota looking to win.”
While it was a good start to the match, Atlanta manager Tata Martino felt that the final quarter of the second half was when things started to fall apart.
“The question could be what happened in the last fifteen minutes,” he said. “The first part of the second half we had chances to score goals and put the game away. After that, we had some errors that (RBNY) capitalized on, and that allowed them to win.”
Finishing was a big part that Martino stressed. The team indeed had several chances to go up 2-0, maybe 3-0. Part of it was some strong saves by Luis Robles, but several shots were poorly aimed and the team tried to do a little too much with the ball in the offensive end instead of making that final pass to acheive the tipping point.
“We created a lot of chances. At times we may have been lacking that finish and that final pass,” Martino said. “I think it’s important for us to improve and control the game - not just for periods, but controlling the ball and playing intense.
There was a little bit of controversy late in the match as Carlos Carmona was whistled for a red card in the 88th minute (as it turned out, he stepped on a RBNY player). Carmona will now be out of the next match against Minnesota next Sunday. Martino was a little puzzled as to what caused the infraction - as well as the fans, who gave Mark Geiger a hearty round of boos as he and his refereeing crew left the stadium.
“They didn’t give me an explanation, and I didn’t see the play. I don’t know what happened.” Martino said.
Minnesota is next on Atlanta United’s slate as both teams sit with a loss to start their initial MLS campaigns. The Loons certainly had a rougher time of things in their inaugural match as they were blitzed 5-1 at Portland Timbers Friday night. The support from the home supporters at TCF Bank Stadium will be intense, but Atlanta United hopes that they can deal Minnesota a second loss to open the season and return to Bobby Dodd Stadium on March 18 with a win.
If we can take anything from this, it’s that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. This team just played its first ever MLS match. While it didn’t finish up as a positive result in the end, there’s a lot to build on moving forward for this group.