Atlanta United closed out the regular season in second place, the same position they were in last campaign when the side went on to lift the MLS Cup.
The last weekend of the season saw Atlanta celebrate the impact and success of Michael Parkhurst as the club’s first captain, witnessed the side defeat the same team they will meet in round one of the playoffs, and saw Miles Robinson receive a deserved contract extension.
The excitement and appreciation seen in the last week was far removed from the disappointment and doubt felt just a week prior after suffering a disheartening defeat in the Bronx before dropping points against a weak Montreal Impact.
The roller coaster of emotions these past two weeks mirror what most fans may have felt through the entirety of the season.
As one such fan, it has proven difficult for me to make sense of the season heading into the playoffs. It can be argued that this season has brought more success than the previous two when considering the league records broken and the trophies won. Despite this, when taking into mind the season statistics it can just as easily be argued that this was the club’s worst.
It seems that every feat this season was preceded or followed by failure, keeping fans in a constant routine of admiration and criticism. The defending champions began the campaign with a 1-2-3 record, at one point sitting rock bottom of the Eastern Conference, before a record-breaking run of five consecutive victories with a clean sheet. Following that amazing run, the Five Stripes would go on to lose six consecutive away games.
Another example of the side’s ever-changing performance was at the end of June when Atlanta played the first of four fixtures in the span of 12 days, conceding 12 goals in that time.
However, the fourth game saw Josef Martinez score twice in the 3-3 home draw against New York Red Bulls. That fixture — Martinez’s first with the Five Stripes since returning from Copa America — catapulted his amazing run where the world watched him score in 15 consecutive league matches.
Cup competitions this season proved no exception. Arguably one of the favorites to represent MLS and advance far within the Concacaf Champions League, Atlanta United instead bowed out of the competition in the Quarterfinals. This added fuel to the fire that is Liga MX regional dominance.
Flip the page to mid-August and Atlanta defeats Club America, the Campeón de Campeones of Liga MX to lift the Campeones Cup. Within the same month the Five Stripes went on to also lift the US Open Cup, achieving qualification for the Champions League once again.
In comparing this season to the previous year’s eventual championship winning side, it can be argued that the side has improved. Despite scoring 12 fewer goals than last season, the defense conceded one less as Brad Guzan tied Bill Hamid for most clean sheets in the league with 14.
However, that one, slight improvement is vastly overshadowed by the fact that Atlanta has doubled their number of away losses from 5 to 10, ending the season on a total of 12 defeats, the most in club history.
Furthermore, when it has rained its poured for Atlanta as the side has conceded three or more goals in seven games this season, drawing just one and losing the rest.
Last season saw Atlanta lose out on the Supporters Shield on the last day of the season. This time around they enter the post season on the back of a 3-1 victory. In comparing this season to last year and looking back on the highs and lows of the current campaign it is utterly impossible to predict how far we will go and what we will see from the side in this year’s edition of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
All I can say is hold on to something, it may get wild.