Wednesday’s contest between the ascendant Atlanta United 2s and the division-leading Birmingham Legion was poised to become an immediate classic between these rival clubs. Atlanta entered the match having never beaten Birmingham, let alone scored the opening goal.
This was a much younger line-up than in the previous match between these teams. Academy forward Danial Sebhatu became the first player in the class of 2005 to make his debut on the left wing for Atlanta United. He shared the flank with fellow youngster Caleb Wiley. Opposite Sebhatu, Aiden McFadden returned to the starting line-up for the first time in 3 matches. Up the middle, Reilly and Alan played in a double pivot with Mertz sitting behind Mathias Benítez in his False-9 position. Kamdem, Bauer, and Washington round out the field players on defense, with Rocco Rios Novo remaining between the posts.
The opening 10 minutes were all Birmingham who had surprised the 2s with a new formation, a 4-3-3, that pinned Atlanta to the back of their own defensive third, clinging for life by their fingernails. It seemed all but certain that this young side would cave and get run off of the field. Gradually, the 2s used their width to stretch out Birmingham and to invite their defense forward. In the thirteenth minute as centerback Josh Bauer charged into the midfield to find Mathias Benitez who struck a perfectly-timed slip ball through the Birmingham defense to find Aiden McFadden wide open, one-on-one, with the keeper.
Incisive pass from Benítez splits the Birmingham defense— ATL UTD 2 (@atlutd2) July 1, 2021
Goal No. 6️⃣ on the year for McFadden ⚫️ pic.twitter.com/R9BxzDRwDl
That opening goal seemed to throw the universe into disarray. What had previously been lopsided in Birmingham’s favor swung hard to the 2s as they imposed their will up and down the field with the kind of ball control and probing attacks fans have come to love. Atlanta embraced Birmingham’s physicality and goaded their opponents into fouls in increasingly dangerous areas around the box. Benítez played as a man possessed, creating nearly a half dozen chances in the first 45 minutes including a beautiful run where he nutmegged two Birmingham players to get in on goal only to be denied by a brilliant save by the Birmingham keeper. Caleb Wiley went for a world-class run of his own to the touchline, only to run out of room when no help arrived.
As the team’s confidence grew, Sebhatu’s wariness seemed to recede. After a quiet start, he began teleporting around the field, leading the attack on a couple of breakaways and nearly creating the second goal with well-placed passes to split the retreating Birmingham defense.
Atlanta threw more and more forward in search of their second goal, but Birmingham had plenty of tricks up their veteran sleeves. Without possession, Birmingham switched to a press-and-counter style of play. Junior Flemmings terrorized the 2s backline, drawing yellows from both Kamdem and Washington on goal-saving tackles. As the half drew down to its final minutes, a Birmingham blitz through the 2s defense into disarray as missed tackles and failed clearances led to Nico Brett’s equalizer.
With one more half to play, there seemed to be plenty of goals left in the match but the universe had seen enough. Storm clouds rolled in bringing lighting and torrential rains, swamping the field, and washing away any hope of resuming play.
Just before midnight, USL called the match. It would be rescheduled and resumed at a later date. What had been a thrilling emergence for the 2s was wiped from the record books, but for the 2s and their new coach, it was proof that they can not only compete with the best in the league but they can beat them. This is a game they feel was theirs to take so the injustice of them not getting their chance will fuel a burning hunger and confidence that should terrify their upcoming opponents.
What a Beauty - Really pleasing performance until the Storm ☔️— Jack Collison (@jackcollison) July 1, 2021
Looking forward to doing it again
That next team is Memphis 901 FC, and the 2s already have plenty of history with them. That match will be played on Saturday at the Fraction. Coverage begins at 7:30 pm ET and will be streamed on ESPN+.