Atlanta United has completed the incredible two-year odyssey from expansion start-up to Major League Soccer champions.
With a 2-0 win over the Portand Timbers in the MLS Cup before a record crowd of 73,019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta United won its first league championship in just its second season in existence.
Josef Martinez and Franco Escobar provided the goals, Martinez’s coming in the first half at 39 minutes with Escobar seemingly sealing the championship with a second at the 54-minute mark.
Atlanta United’s title is also the first for the snakebitten sports city since the Atlanta Braves won the 1995 World Series. The Braves’ World Series win had been Atlanta’s only major professional sports championship until Atlanta United’s triumph.
Martinez’s goal extended an MLS record for most combined regular-season and postseason goals to 35. In his two seasons with Atlanta, Martinez — the 2018 Major League Soccer MVP — has displayed a goal-scoring prowess not yet seen before in the league, netting 54 goals in 59 regular-season and postseason games.
Atlanta United’s Cup victory might serve as a watershed moment for the 23-year-old MLS. As arguably the most ambitious soccer club in the Western Hemisphere, Atlanta has set a new standard for its MLS competitors. It has paid record fees to attain talent, while at the same time shattering MLS attendance records.
Now Atlanta United has a championship trophy to validate those on- and off-field efforts.
Helping shepherd Atlanta United to its zenith is Gerardo “Tata” Martino, a decorated coach whose previous managerial experience includes FC Barcelona and the Argentina national team, among others. The MLS Cup was Martino’s final game as Atlanta United’s coach, as he is reportedly in line to take over as Mexico’s national team coach.
For Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank, the Major League Soccer championship has to be sweet redemption. Blank also is owner of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, who blew a 28-3 second-half lead in Super Bowl LI, which the New England Patriots won in overtime. The Falcons have been a .500 team since that crushing defeat.