ATLANTA – Compliments were plenty and varied after Atlanta United and NYCFC fought to a 2-2 draw on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The battle of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, and perhaps MLS, featured goals by a fullback (Greg Garza), centerback (Chris McCann), holding midfielder (Alex Ring) and striker (David Villa), as well as a goal from another holding midfielder (Darlington Nagbe) that was disallowed after use of replay.
There were amazing pieces of dribbling skill from Miguel Almiron, awareness from Villa, tackles from Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Michael Parkhurst, effort by Ring and saves by Brad Guzan.
Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said it may have been the best game his team has played in its 39-game history.
Of more importance, it was, according to NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira, an advertisement for the league for everything because of the play to the stadium to the supporters.
“You just have to look at the game today,” the former standout at Arsenal and the French national team said. “Look at the quality of both teams, the quality of the stadium, the quality of the fans. That wasn’t the case five years ago. I think MLS is moving to the right direction. The young international players who are coming to play in the U.S. raise the level of teams and the league.”
Vieira continued with this, which was an even stronger endorsement: “I strongly believe that in the next couple of years, MLS can compete against at least the French and some of the Championship teams to bring players. The quality is there. The atmosphere is there, and the money is getting better so that is good.”
Vieira described the atmosphere at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which had an attendance of 45,001 on Sunday, as “fantastic.”
“I was really looking forward to coming here because watching games on TV, looking at the atmosphere, the fans, it is a tough place to come and play, of course,” he said. “The atmosphere is the best in this league. I think they stand out really high for the other teams to follow behind. This is part of improving the league and it is good to play football on a field like that.”
“I think it is important for international journalists to come over and to look at the stadium, to look at the quality of the games because I think the game today was a really good game of football. Tactically, it was really interesting, and this is good for MLS.”
This story was written by Doug Roberson, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.