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DSS Roundtable: Atlanta United’s Mount Rushmore

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Who are the four most important figures in the Five Stripes’ history?

This week on MLSSoccer.com’s podcast Extratime Radio, they’ve asked the question, who would be on the Mount Rushmore of every MLS team? Well, Atlanta United has been competitive for only just over three years, but they already have written a pretty interesting story. So, who have been the four most influential people in the club’s short history? The DSS staff has their say below. Feel free to add yours in the comments.

Rob

If Josef Martinez isn’t on everyone’s list, it’s time to seek another team to follow. There is no debate to be had. For me, he’s one of two that are locks. His goal scoring prowess alone would be enough to earn him the place, but add the impact he’s had off-the-field to the club and it just strengthens his case. As a superstar of MLS he could’ve used his success in Atlanta to propel himself to bigger and better things, but instead he fell in love with the city and committed his future to it. He’ll forever be an Atlanta United legend no matter what happens from here on out.

The second lock is Arthur Blank for obvious reasons. He bought in 100% and his brainchild has become the model franchise in MLS.

Blank’s best decision so far is my third choice. Hiring Darren Eales as the team’s President was a stroke of genius. He’s laid the foundation of what the club has become in such a short time. From the transfer philosophy to ideas on the field, it’s all stemmed from Darren’s initial plan.

I’m torn on the last one. I love Miguel Almiron and enjoyed watching him play but I have to give the nod to Tata Martino. Yes, he was here only two seasons but he took Eales’ plans and brought them to life faster than anyone could’ve dreamed of. His ideas were deemed too crazy for MLS, yet he got everyone to buy in to create something truly magical. For now, he’s in my top four until we see the Tata era topped.

John

Build the statue mountain. Obviously, Josef Martinez has to be on the list. He is the icon, the talisman, the torchbearer, the paladin, the...whatever. He is, quite simply, the face of Atlanta United. Which is rather important if you are going to carve a giant bust of it, right?

Right next to him should be Miguel Almiron. Even without the Dragonball Z fingers. Miggy was the driving force behind United in its first two seasons, especially while Josef was out injured in 2017. But I’m not sure there’s enough white stone in the world to properly represent that toothy grin.

Over on the far side, I’d put Michael Parkhurst. How can your first ever captain not be up there? Atlanta United was the dream end to his career. His leadership was crucial both on and off the field, and was an underappreciated key part of the 2018 MLS Cup run.

And in between the three, you have to put Arthur Blank. The father of the Republic, as it were. Without his vision, his determination, his belief in Atlanta as a soccer town, and, yes, let’s face it, his money, we would not have the glorious club we now enjoy.

Parker

Josef Martinez - like George Washington, he’s a man you’d follow into battle and potentially freeze to death for. He deserves to be on Mt. Rushmore, have a state named after him (I suggest annexing Canada and renaming it Josef Martinezlandia), and have a his face on currency. Print the coin.

Michael Parkhurst - filling the role of Thomas Jefferson is the team’s first captain. If there is anyone who exemplifies the ideal of the Yoeman Farmer, it’s Parky. He’s not flashy but his steady play and calm demeanor not only made him the best centerback in MLS history, but also etch him into the side of the mountain. Like Jefferson, he also declared independence - from the idea that MLS centerbacks can only be tall and bad at passing.

Julian Gressel - someone who absolutely never quit and could do anything he put his mind to, Julian Gressel is the Teddy Roosevelt of Atlanta United. Need someone to lead a charge up a hill in Cuba? Play five positions, attack, defend, be the entire game plan for a full season when the 3-4-3 doesn’t work out? Raft the Amazon River - Julian could do all that, the only thing that would stop him was if the team ran out of KT tape.

Miguel Almiron - tall, lanky, a champion of the union, someone who inspired me to reach with that last comparison, Miguel is Abraham Lincoln. Like Lincoln he also left too soon, but it’s almost impossible to think of the team without him. Miguel might have been the most important player on and off the field for Atlanta United. Tata telling him “Quiero contar contigo” brought him to the team and his record setting sale proved the concept of Atlanta being a destination for players wanting to make the jump to Europe. Without him, it’s arguable that the team would not have had the success it did at the start much less beyond.

Arthur Blank - it’s said there’s something every president knows when they take office, Mt. Rushmore has room for another carving. Given that the success on the field is thanks to careful planning and preparation off of it, Arthur Blank deserves that spot. Soccer is not successful in given markets for no reason, teams have to understand their fanbases and give them what they want. It’s a tricky move to pull off, but Blank set up a front office to do just that and proved the critics wrong before a ball was even kicked. He deserves a ton of credit for setting the pieces in place and putting them in play.

TF

  1. Bobby Dodd - I suspect 25 years from now “Project Lemonade” as Darren Eales called it will be known as the single most successful initiative ever to have been undertaken by anyone at the club. The stadium problems should have and would have been a debacle for the fledgling franchise — the likes of which might have extracted all the goodwill out of an eager but vulnerable fan base. But the night of March 5, 2017 was pure magic and every game thereafter as well, to the point where many would have adopted BDS as their permanent home if given the chance. In life you don’t get to play back the scenarios to see the results of the choices you didn’t make, but we all know there is no need to in this case.
  2. Tito Villalba - The first designated player signing for Atlanta United was a home run. I dare you to watch Youtube highlights of Atlanta United’s goals (here or here). They are dripping with Tito. He is also a consensus one of the top 5 MLS wingers in the TAM era. He’s created a goal every other game at every team he’s ever played more than 90 minutes for. He’s a legend in Atlanta.
  3. Michael Parkhurst - Somehow an expansion team was able to play out their inaugural season and then two more seasons with the consensus greatest center back that’s ever played in Major League Soccer. If this hiatus continues for much longer, I encourage everyone to watch Parky in the old replays. He is constantly moving the ball quickly in buildup and advancing on the dribble into space when it’s available. Maybe the smartest MLS player of all time and ask any of his teammates about the player and leader he was. Prediction: He will be back in the summer wearing #45.
  4. Donny Toia
  5. Josef Alexander Martinez. Somehow they negotiated a loan to buy option on Greatness itself. Josef is not on the Atlanta United Mount Rushmore, and he’s not on the actual Mount Rushmore (which sucks by the way). He has his own mountain and has cordially invited David Robert Jones, John Maynard Keynes, and Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

Sam Franco

Number one for me on Atlanta United’s Mt. Rushmore has to be Arthur Blank. I mean, the team wouldn’t exist without him (at least not in the way that it currently does). If you go back and watch the video of the April 16th, 2014 press conference where Atlanta getting an MLS team was officially announced, I was the last person to ask a question to Uncle Arthur. I used to be a “broadcast journalist” (whatever that means), but this question started off as me just being a fanboy and thanking Blank for something I’ve wanted my whole life: an actual professional soccer team in Atlanta. Once I actually got to the question, I asked him what he would say to the naysayers/doubters out there that said Atlanta couldn’t/wouldn’t support an MLS team. Well, I’d say that he’s officially proven all of those people wrong and then some. That announcement happened on my birthday, so I’m forever thankful to Arthur Blank for giving me the best birthday present that anyone has or ever will get me.

As far as Atlanta United Mt. Rushmores go, if Josef Martinez isn’t on yours, then, well, you probably aren’t reading this post anyway because you aren’t actually a fan of Atlanta United or soccer in general. Josef has become such a part of the fabric of the Atlanta sports scene that every time he shows up at one of the other teams’ games, he steals the spotlight. The Hawks and Braves can’t get enough of the guy. The imprint that he has left on this city (in a relatively short amount of time) has been incredible. It still blows my mind that a “winger” playing at Torino has become one of the faces of Atlanta sports.

Up next for my Atlanta United Mt. Rushmore is Miguel Almiron. Josef Martinez is the best goalscorer Atlanta United has ever had, but if you’re looking at just talent evaluation, Miguel Almiron is Atlanta United’s best ever talent. The main reason that Atlanta United was able to have early success and ultimately win an MLS Cup is because of Miggy. He was constantly “the straw that stirred the drink”. He is also the player that made me fall in love so quickly with this team. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen anywhere at being able to know exactly what to do as soon as the players behind him in the defense gained possession. He rarely made a bad decision on a counterattack, and he will forever be a part of Atlanta United’s history.

Finally for my Mt. Rushmore of Five Stripes, I’ve got to go with Darren Eales. If Arthur Blank had the ambition to make Atlanta United an instant success, Eales had the brains. Building a club from scratch is no easy feat, but it’s made even harder with the restrictiveness that is MLS roster rules/finances. There are so many things that stand in your way trying to negotiate those things, but Eales has done a remarkable job at not only building the club, but keeping things going. Other than a few clubs (Red Bulls and Sounders come to mind), no MLS team has been able to run off three very successful seasons in a row like Atlanta United has, particularly with the MLS structure that’s currently in place. Eales has also done an incredible job of connecting with the Atlanta fan base and embracing the culture that’s been created. Finally, it’s always better when your club executives feel like people you’d love to grab a pint with.

JSam

just Josef laying down on his back but 164x times bigger and that’s my Atlanta United Eiffel Tower.

Jess

JOSEF, for all the reasons everyone said before me.

I guess I have to put Arthur Blank in here because without his heavy BUT smart spending we would be Orlando. (But honestly Miguel Almiron goes here, the most complete player in our short history, a game changer and we’ll never forget him.)

Next I’ll put Tata Martino, only two years but what an exciting ride. He was one of the main reasons that many of our best players wanted to come to a newly formed team in Georgia?!!? His charisma and style of play made him a match made in heaven for a city that just wanted a team with a winning mentality, ambition and he brought that just by taking the job. When I went to games I used to spend half of the time just looking at him, how he interacted with his players and opposing mangers. He was funny, approachable and honest, something very refreshing to see in sports. I can’t imagine a better manager to start of a team basically from scratch. I’m so glad he was our first manager and we won our first of many MLS cups with him. (YES, I MISS HIM A LOT)

I’m the only person who’s going to pick this person and I’m proud of that. It’s a very personal choice and I’m ready to be judged for it.

It’s Leandro González Pirez, not the best defender, not the best overall player but my favorite player to watch since the beginning. To start, five has been my favorite number since I was a kid. Also, I briefly played soccer in high school and I was a defender, just like him, trying my best, thinking I was better than I was, making last minute (mostly bad) decisions without thinking about the consequences (still do). But we can’t deny he brought many positives to a championship team, a fearless leader on the field who you always knew was going to give you a 110% every match and unlike Gareth Bale, tried his best to fit in with the culture of the club and country, learned English, loved living in Atlanta and was an amazing teammate. Every winning team needs a player like him, a mix of irrational confidence, talent and a bit of madness.

Drew L.

I’m going with all players, and yes, I do acknowledge those behind the scenes who have built this club into what it is. I like to think that those individuals would have their own monuments. I mean, who wouldn’t like to see Arthur Blank as the Statue of Liberty for all NY Red Bull supporters to gaze upon (MLS Cup in Hand).

Josef Martinez.

Miguel Almiron. The other half of the fusion. Paraguay’s Speedy Gonzales. He lit the league up with his explosive runs and creativity alongside Josef. He was the driving force behind the Five Stripe’s first MLS Cup and gave us countless memories and highlights to look back on before his record breaking transfer to the Premier League.

Michael Parkhurst. The skipper. The side’s first captain came with tons of experience and leadership. Watching him lift the MLS Cup with Atlanta, having lost in four previous finals, was a great moment not just for the club but for the league as well and will be a moment we look back on for years to come.

Franco Escobar. Tough pick for fourth. But come on, it has to be “Playoff Franco.” The name speaks for itself. A player who has shown up in big games time and again. He has been an important piece both defensively and in attack for the side and has played his part in much of the success the side has seen.

Andrew Hathaway

Josef Martinez. There’s Atlanta United and Josef Martinez. You can’t have one without the other. To see a player be so in love with a city he’s not from and essentially adopt it as his own is something rare and makes rooting for said player all the more easier.

Miguel Almiron. How could you not love the guy with the most infectious smile? Miggy was the engine of the team that brought Atlanta it’s first championship in 23 years. Miggy was also the guy that proved Blank, Eales, and the whole Atlanta United front office right that this system of “buy low, sell high” worked in MLS when he was sold for a MLS transfer record fee.

Darren Eales. There’s obviously a lot of people behind the scenes that deserve credit, I just wanted to give Eales his credit here. On the sports side of this, he’s obviously done a great job bringing in a variety of talent from everywhere around the world. Off the field, though, he’s been really involved with the fans and really connected with them. I would say most fans have interacted with Eales at some point whether it’s at the tailgates, getting involved with team events, or just the cryptic tweet being sent out of a new signing. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the president of a team be this involved with the fans and we should really cherish this while he’s around.

Michael Parkhurst. The first club captain. Parky was never the best athlete but it didn’t matter for him, it always seemed like he was two steps ahead of anyone coming his way. The best example of this came in the 2018 MLS Cup Final where he tackled an attacker at midfield based off knowing his tendency to go to his right, and that tackle lead to the opening goal by Josef. Parky was touted as a leader by many of his teammates and coaching staff and will definitely be a tough void for the team to ever fill.

Jackson

From reading the entries above me, you can probably see a strong pattern emerging in the shortlist of Mount Rushmore candidates. With such a brief history, how many legit options can you have? I have no burning outsider take here, so instead I propose another monument on the opposite face, a “B-side” consisting of those who might not have a direct impact on Atlanta United’s legacy, but had an impact nonetheless. Here we go:

Kenwyne Jones: One of the earlier signings on the inaugural roster, Kenwyne, while not a starter, quickly earned himself a nickname “Barber Jones” and became one of the most identifiable players on the team thanks to his size, dreadlocks, and trademark backflips. While Tata’s system never suited him right, he was still serviceable when Josef was sidelined early on in the season, but was let go in the end with the classic retire then get your rights traded to Kansas City move. Kenwyne is easily one of the best characters in the Atlanta United story, and if you don’t agree, well, blame yourself u idiot.

Stéphane Mbia: The man that allowed us to take a good long look in the mirror and see how wildly addicted we are to this team certainly deserves a lot more recognition than he’s given. After some rumors of his potential signing started to be spread in 2018, Mbia foolishly posted a *glimpse* of airport tarmac, and after hours of photo matching and flight tracking by the fanbase was met in the international terminal of Hartsfield-Jackson by the ATLUTD faithful. The madman even took photos and gave autographs all while knowing his odds of signing might be slim to none. A couple days later, and Mbia flew back out, never to be seen again. He did get to meet Roddy White, though, so I guess it was worth it for him.

Chris Armas: In many ways, Chris is just as responsible for the star above the crest as Josef rounding Jeff Attinella, doing a quick stutter step, and passing the ball into an open net. Even though others may want you fired, or tell you that making drastic tactical changes in a conference final is dumb and you blew it, just know that we love you, Chris. Only maybe not as much as...

Spike: Y’all know about that Atlanta FC soccer team? That Tito Martinez fella I hear is pretty good an— don’t care, doesn’t matter, HAVE YOU SEEN THE PUPPY?? He flew in a plane and has his own G-Wagon and personalized kit and is going to be a service dog and he’s getting so big and he is the beginning and the end and nothing else matters not draws not losses not even postponed matches if you just look. at. the. dog. Pain is temporary; Spike is forever, and he should be immortalized as such.

Honorable mentions: Will Johnson, Josef’s knee surgeon