A historic night in the city of Atlanta started off so beautifully with the anticipation of Atlanta United's first ever match. It ended in defeat to the New York Red Bulls, but that shouldn't put much of a damper on an otherwise glorious night. As always, we learned quite a bit from the match. Here's five things that stood out:
MLS isn't the preseason
Aside from one match against the Columbus Crew in preseason, the warm-up matches for Atlanta United in February were a breeze. Playing two lower division teams and a reserve Sounders lineup probably wasn't the greatest of preparation for the true MLS season. Tata Martino admitted through a translator that one more week of preseason would have been ideal and he's probably right. Coming up against true MLS opposition in a full speed match was a bit of a shock to the system at first for Atlanta. They managed to net the match's first goal, but never really showed the fluidity and periods of dominance we saw in preseason. As time goes on, Atlanta United will adapt and adjust to the speed of play and we'll get to see the true makings of what this team can be.
Fitness levels aren't where they need to be
Speaking of that preseason match against Columbus, this match was carbon copy of that loss. A bright start with a first half goal, the tired legs in the second half causing one goal, then that escalating to a second. By the 65th minute, it was clear that Atlanta United had tired itself out like they did against the Crew and were sitting ducks. With time and as the season goes on, those fitness issues will resolve themselves and the mistakes that led to the goals will happen less and less.
Atlanta United are good
Despite the loss, the team played well for the majority of the match. It wasn't their best display as the passing moves weren't as crisp as we've seen in the preseason, but it's obvious that this is a team that can compete and win on a regular basis. The talent level of the entire squad is extraordinary for an expansion team. The attacking skill players are all a threat, the midfielders are solid and dependable, and the defense is mixed with experience and talent. The results will eventually come because the talent is there.
So are the Red Bulls
Let us not forget, the New York Red Bulls have been arguably the best team the Eastern conference has had to offer for the last three seasons. They finished atop the East last season and won the Supporters' Shield in 2013 and 2015. Yes, they were playing on short rest, but that just proves how good they are that they can recover quickly and still play very well. This wasn't the best the Red Bulls have played either, but it's important to remember just how good they are. It was a tough task facing such a well-organized and disciplined team to start your MLS journey. It will be fun to see these two talented teams play each other again in the future, maybe even in the playoffs.
Atlanta is a soccer city
I have to make a confession right here and now. When MLS Atlanta was first announced I was a doubter. I looked at the Atlanta Braves, and how little the fans cared, and assumed that this city wouldn't be ready to support a team. Three years later and I'm happy that me and all the other doubters were dead wrong. Atlanta is a soccer city now and a passionate one (maybe just a little too much as some points) at that. Last night proved that the people of Atlanta and all over the Southeast love soccer.