Decision Day has come and gone, and the Five Stripes are standing tall on the ashes of the first half of their season. What a ride it’s been thus far for the 2021 edition of Atlanta United; two full-time managers, an MVP-caliber signing, and a late sprint to the playoffs all highlight the regular season for the club with the ninth highest attendance per match in the entire world.
But the journey isn’t over yet, as Atlanta’s 2-1 defeat of Cincinnati earlier in the week officially punched the ticket into the playoffs. Unfortunately, Philly failed to help out the good guys, when all they had to do was beat NYCFC who played down a man for a large portion of the match, but ultimately Atlanta took care of its own business. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until after Decision Day, though, that the week started to get truly interesting for the Five Stripes. With that being said, here are the four things you need to know about Atlanta United this week.
- Atlanta United Surges in Second Half to Defeat Cincinnati and Clinch Playoff Spot
The first half was awful. When Atlanta made its way up to TQL Stadium to battle F.C. Cincinnati on Sunday, everyone was hoping the attack would truly show out once again coming off an ugly, gritty draw against the Red Bulls. Instead, the first 45 minutes were marred with sloppiness and what actually felt like laziness. The worst team in the league scored on one of the most enticing comeback stories (and best defenses) in the league, and anyone wearing the red, black, and gold went into halftime incredibly frustrated.
Apparently Gonzalo Pineda and Brad Guzan found the secret sauce during a halftime talk to the team, and they walked out for the second 45 minutes looking like a different group. The last quarter of the match creeped up, though, and Cincinnati was still winning 1-0, but the Atlanta attack was clicking and the team was moving the ball much better.
The goal seemed like it was coming, and it did indeed from the United States’ hero, Miles Robinson.
Ok, so a sigh of relief. A feeling of “at least we’re probably not going to end the season losing to the worst team in the league on a day that has huge playoff implications.” Kudos to Gonzalo Pineda for his second half subs and changes that helped put the pressure on the defense. But it was an unlikely hero in Jurgen Damm who made some solid runs on the wing before putting in a delightful cross towards Josef Martinez...which was intercepted and knocked about a mile into the air by Cincy’s defense.
AND THEN JOSEF MARTINEZ!!!
That is a highlight reel, montage-worthy goal if there ever was one, and when Josef makes it to 150 or 200 goals everyone will remember this one as one of the most beautiful. The player’s reactions when they realize it went in are all amazing as well, including Araujo who takes off running (after starting the attack that led to the goal), Lennon, who walks away with his jaw on the floor, and Mulraney, who simply holds his hand up to his mouth to cover his massive smile.
Unsurprisingly, this became the MLS Goal of the Week, as it should. What a way to end the regular season, Josef. Just after this goal was scored, Atlanta United posted the video online simply stating for him to “Take a bow.” When he was subbed off before the end of the match, “El Rey” hit the sideline, turned around, and did exactly that. Perfect.
2. George Bello Drawing Interest from Champions League and Europa League Teams
George Bello has had a solid few years. 2021 in particular has been extremely important for the young man, as he became a regular starter and saw significant minutes with the USMNT. This work rate and noticeable improvement seems to have drawn the interest of some European clubs who may be willing to take a chance on the Atlanta United Academy winger. Doug Roberson first reported the news on Tuesday, and our own Joe Patrick did an excellent write-up on it.
It’s still early in the process, but the information is coming straight from Darren Eales. If Atlanta United were to sell George to a decent club overseas, it would be a resounding success for the club as a whole. Bello has come up through the system, and his willingness to take criticism and apply it is what has made him better year after year and even recently during his national team call-ups.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is no news on Miles Robinson receiving any offers, but that could be for a variety of reasons. First, his contract and Bello’s are like apples and oranges, and it makes more business sense for Darren to openly admit that there is interest in George. Essentially, selling him would be maximizing profit for the club. Miles, on the other hand, is a bit older and it stands to reason that bigger clubs would be banking on seeing him show out in another season plus his USMNT responsibilities to make sure he’s the real deal. Everyone in MLS (and Concacaf) already knows he is, but in terms of fiscal responsibility Miles is the greater risk because he doesn’t have as many years to develop. Bello, on the other hand, is still a sponge. Either way, this offseason could be a doozy.
3. Various Atlanta United Players Are Called Up to International Duty
Speaking of international call-ups and Miles Robinson, he was just one of four who joined their national teams during the current World Cup Qualifier break. Throughout the season, the “four” seemed to always consist of Miles, Bello, Ronald Hernandez, and Josef Martinez. Josef has been lightening his load for his knee, and Bello wasn’t called up for presumably a variety of unknown reasons. The “four” this time around, had a couple of new faces, however.
Of course, Robinson is a set starter for the U.S. Men’s National Team at this point, and he’ll surely being starting against Mexico tonight. Ronald Hernandez continued his travels with El Vinotinto, who continued their rough streak against Ecuador in a match they lost 1-0.
This time around, though, two new faces to the international game popped up: Caleb Wiley and Machop Chol. Calen Wiley got his call for the USYNT at age 16 as the youngest player on the roster (U-20). They’ve already played one match to a 4-0 loss against Brazil. In their defense, they haven’t played a game in 18 months and just hired their coach less than a week ago. Nonetheless, it’s an outstanding achievement for Wiley.
Machop Chol had to do a bit more traveling for his international call-up with South Sudan, but what a wonderful story he has to finally be able to travel back to his birthplace to play after moving to Clarkston, Georgia when he was two. Hopefully, he’ll get some valuable experience in the camp and come back ready to truly take advantage of the sparse first team minutes he’s been getting. The “fighting Pokemon” has some clear talent that continues to be refined.
4. Atlanta United Drops a Banger
Well, this one was unexpected. Shortly after Atlanta’s defeat of Cincinnati Darren Eales took to social media to drop a video in celebration of the club making the playoffs. What happened next can’t be described; it can only be watched.
There’s a lot to dissect here, but ultimately the collaboration is another welcome addition to club culture and lore. First, props to Darren Eales for stepping way out of his comfort zone to do something else to connect with the fans in an extremely unique way. It’s fairly common knowledge now that Darren loves karaoke, so here’s hoping there’s a video coming soon of him jammin’ this at the Christmas party.
Second, this music video was created entirely by Atlanta United’s media team, and they did an outstanding job. This was Waka Flocka’s first release in six years, and he has been a staunch supporter of the club since the very beginning; he was even at the reveal of the Five Stripe’s first kit back in 2016. Having a celebrity (a few, in fact) that truly cares about the team as a real fan instead of another PR opportunity is sort of a rarity, and this really just felt like a labor of love for Waka and Darren (I never thought I would write such a sentence). Hats off to Waka for wanting to take this song and turn it into another Atlanta anthem.
The video was filmed entirely at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Center, and I can only imagine what anyone driving by on I-75 was thinking when they saw two dudes driving around on golf carts swinging flares on Atlanta United’s training pitch in the middle of the night. Regardless, Darren Eales continues to find new ways to entertain and continue that culture of “fun” from the top down, and that will never be a bad thing. Now they just have to figure out how to fit this one and “We Ready” on the halo board, but if they can get this song bangin’ at halftime with everyone on their feet, I’m here for it.
It’s stuck in your head now, ain’t it?