Major soccer clubs have a natural cycle of dominance-and-rebuilding. Every organization usually has a 2 to 3 year stretch of dominance, whether in the league, in the continental competition (Champions League, AFC, CONCACAF Champions League), or both.
With Atlanta United’s disappointing performance in the 2020 MLS is Back tournament, it seems like their MLS dominance is coming to an end. While this may be true, let’s take a look at the team’s best season in 2018 under Tata Martino. Perhaps, looking back at past glory days may help for future success.
After being knocked out by the Columbus Crew in their first season, Atlanta United showed promise and potential for success. It was impressive for the team to make it into the playoffs during their inaugural season, and as such, fans were totally impressed. Given their new status in the MLS, the initial expectations for the club were not that high. Fans did expect their team to perform well, but they also knew that they needed time to grow together. With the other MLS teams and stars like Carlos Vela for LAFC and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (who was still with LA Galaxy at the time), nobody really expected what Atlanta United would do in 2018.
Under head coach Tata Martino, the team utilized an attacking play style and philosophy. They were the highest-scoring team, racking up an incredible 70 goals in the MLS season. Star striker Josef Martinez netted 31 goals (a record at the time for most goals in a single season) while also scoring 4 goals in the playoffs. It was clear that Martinez was the star of the team, but other players also proved crucial to the team’s success, including Miguel Almiron, Miles Robinson, Brad Guzan, and Hector Vilalba. After recording an almost 70 point season (69 points), the team qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League. Going into the playoffs, they suddenly looked like one of the favorites to win it all.
Finishing second in the Eastern Conference was a huge help for Atlanta United because it gave them an immediate spot in the Conference Semifinals. The Five Stripes capitalized on their hard work, cruising past New York City FC with a score of 4-1, then eventually beating the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the New York Red Bulls, by a dominant 3-1 score. In the Finals, they beat the Portland Timbers by a score of 1-0, clinching the team’s first-ever title, an impressive feat for such a new club.
It is rare to see a team come into a league and dominate from the get-go. Atlanta United by no means had an easy task or road to their final win. They faced the New York Red Bulls and the Portland Timbers- two well-established clubs who had consistently dominated in the MLS. Looking back, it makes their title win even more impressive, especially how unexpected yet dominant they were. Despite their young history, the 2018 side will go down as not only one of the club’s best teams, but also as one of the best MLS teams. The franchise has proven that they can achieve greatness, and fans expect nothing short of excellence in the future. Hopefully, they will live up to their dominant season in the years to come.