Atlanta United christened Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the most entertaining and fulfilling way possible with a thrilling 3-0 win over FC Dallas Sunday afternoon. Here’s what we learned:
The energy in Mercedes-Benz Stadium was amazing
Atlanta came shooting out of the blocks for the first time at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The atmosphere was electric, and the play on the field nearly matched it from the onset. Atlanta created a host of chances -- so much so that despite the amazing play from the home side, Dallas GK Jesse Gonzalez was probably the man of the first half with six saves in the 45 minutes. The crowd seemed to help Atlanta’s energy in the early goings. Dallas, on the other hand looked a bit shaken, not able to successfully gain a foothold until the half-hour mark.
Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron look back at their best
Almiron seemed to be playing with a very free role hovering just underneath Martinez, and the pair combined for the goal that started the second half. Both of them terrorized Dallas all afternoon. Almiron found plenty of space to work, especially with Atlanta playing on the break. But he was also tenacious defensively and fashioned a chance all by himself in the second half by winning the ball off an unsuspecting Hernan Grana, then carrying the ball all the way to the mouth of goal, only denied by the crossbar.
Martinez was equally as ruthless. He made his mark early in the fourth minute by drawing a penalty on Dallas GK Jesse Gonzalez, only for the play to be waved off by VAR for an alleged offside. No problem for Josef though, he was just getting started. He constantly positioned himself between the Dallas CB’s. SOmetimes he’d make the run in behind, but he would also fake the run and stop short for a ball to be played to his feet. And yet, his most impressive play might have been his restraint on a Tito Villalba cross in the 68th minute. Instead of going for goal himself, he dummied the ball perfectly — attracting the defenders toward him and leaving the ball on a plate for Greg Garza to smash into the back of the net. Josef’s runs and intelligence off the ball spearheaded Atlanta’s successful attack.
Josef Martinez movement has been A+ today for @ATLUTD. IMO single most important factor for this team be successful down this stretch.— Daniel Gargan (@HeyDanGargan) September 10, 2017
Forget the artificialness, United love the large playing surface
Atlanta looked more at home in it’s first game on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium field than they ever looked at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The team had room on the ball that isn’t normally available at the team’s former home. It couldn’t have been more evident how well-suited the players are to the large field. Tito Villalba was a particular benefactor as he was able to stretch his legs (and the Dallas defense) on lung-busting runs down the flank without running into the endline or an onrushing goalkeeper.
Garza on the field size: "It's ginormous."— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) September 10, 2017
Parkhurst on the field size : [eyes agape] "You take one wrong step on that field and you're giving up a chance. It's tough to defend."— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) September 10, 2017
The Supporters Groups haven’t missed a beat
Simply put, they haven’t dropped off one bit during the long layoff between home games. They were loud and rowdy all game, leading one of the best atmospheres of the season. The tifo was especially great.
ATL tifo game on point pic.twitter.com/cLIv0ae7fI— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 11, 2017
Atlanta will be able to kill games better at MBS
I know, I know, there’s lots of talk about how the size of the field is going to help the team. But it’s true! And while much of what fans and pundits will talk about is how many goals it will allow Atlanta to score, the understated benefit is that the Five Stripes will be able to kill of games more effectively on the large pitch. With more space between players, that’s more ground for tired defenders t have to chase down. As Johann Cruyff once said, “Sometimes you help a teammate by moving closer to him, but sometimes you help him by moving further away.” On the large field, Atlanta players are able to position themselves so far away from one another that they can more effectively keep possession and force their opponents to a) tire b) make risky defensive choices or c) both. Sunday, Atlanta was opnening up Dallas at the end of the game when they weren’t even necessarily trying to go for goal. After keeping possession for so long, eventually DAllas players grew frustrated and started leaving gaps Atlanta couldn’t help but exploit.