Atlanta United lost the right to host the Seattle Sounders in a second straight MLS Cup Final thanks to a pair of wondergoals. This of course means that the team will have to settle for just two trophies in 2019 and won’t get a chance to watch Seattle Concacaf-up MBS, but Atlanta will finish in second place to Matt Doyle once again. This is a terrific accomplishment as it’s difficult or impossible to repeat as MLS champion.
Given how the team got to the Eastern Conference Final, this is a pretty bitter loss and the forces of the Dread God certainly seemed to exert its cosmic will on the result. For about 13 minutes everything was turning Atlanta’s way and it seemed like the story of the post-season would continue. That story was one about the struggles to find balance as the team adjusted to a new manager being overcome, about the right adjustments being made, and about a new player coming good. Then a missed penalty, a pair of fantastic goals on shots that usually don’t end up anywhere near the net, and 77 minutes of missed chances put an end to the season.
Still, given how mightily the team bounced between different tactics and the public disagreements about them voiced by the players, Atlanta United accomplished quite a lot in 2019. Like this:
Even though it seemed like things were lining up so well for Atlanta to repeat as MLS Cup Champions - Chris Armas blowing it, NYCFC becoming the New York Mets, Carlos Vela not coming through in a big game, and the specter of getting revenge on Harry Shipp - this is what the season came down to:
That is what it looks like when you out play your opponent but miss a penalty and allow two goals the opponent couldn’t hope to repeat if they had the chance, in the end it doesn’t matter. Individually, the players performed well in the match. Julian Gressel looked like he was playing like he deserved a big contract, Franco Escobar came to life again and put forward his typical madcap playoff show, Darlington Nagbe was untouchable with the ball at his feet, and Michael Parkhurst said goodbye as the best centerback in MLS history.
All that amounted to was just one score though and it wasn’t enough. The goal to Nick DeLeon came when Jeff Larentowicz and Julian Gressel looked to have him contained, but perhaps a miscue from them led to both stepping back to give him space to unleash a perfect shot from distance to bury the game. Also, Pity and a perhaps injured Josef combined to make this seem a lot less funny now:
In any event, here is how the Kings did not quite become Legends:
Really it was only a kingly number of shots, amount of possession, and uh... crosses - not a legendary number of them.
This season may not have been the most enjoyable, but it was probably the most entertaining. From the drama, time spent in last place, constant identity crisis, brief and odd belief that the team was some kind of amazing defensive powerhouse that would win every game 1-0, the constant suspicion that the Five Stripes were more fraudulent than the Union (they weren’t... or were they?), Brek Shea (but really - BREK SHEA!), Darlington Nagbe snubbing the USMNT only to have Miles Robinson be unavailable for the conference final because Gregg Berhalter was channeling his inner Very Serious High School Football Coach with late night practices, and two trophies. SO MUCH ENTERTAINMENT.
Year one of the Frank de Boer tenure was an endurance contest and next year will bring many more changes, but 2020 will have to do a lot to top the struggles and triumphs of 2019.