Atlanta United were defeated by the New York Red Bulls 2-1 in their inaugural match in front of 55,297 at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium. However, the sellout crowd was frenzied for a proper football match. Atlanta pressed high defensively and gave New York Red Bulls trouble as they sought to establish possession. Their tenacity quickly paid off as forward Yamil Asad scored Atlanta’s first goal in team history and gave his team a 1-0 lead in the 25th minute. He was on the end of a Tyrone Mears cross and slotted home a volley through the legs of Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles.
Atlanta led 1-0 heading into the halftime interval. However, midfielder Daniel Royer scored for New York Red Bulls and in conjunction with an own goal by Atlanta United defender Anton Walkes gave the visitors the lead in a six-minute span in the second half.
“The question could be what happened in the last 15 minutes,” Atlanta United head coach Tata Martino said. “We were much closer to converting a second goal. And in a series of errors that we made, they turned the score around, but I think we had started to control the game again up until they scored the equalizer.”
In the second half, it appeared New York Red Bulls settled down and were able to cope with Atlanta’s aggressive pressing game. Coupled with Atlanta’s inability to convert their chances, the momentum in the second half shifted.
“I think that the set piece obviously gives them momentum,” explained defender Michael Parkhurst. “1-1, you know they were pushing. We were starting to get into a mode where we could just lock up the game. It was getting to that point in the game and so the momentum shifted then.”
Meanwhile, Atlanta United and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur M. Blank was effusive in his praise of last night’s match.
“I’m incredibly excited after a number of years of chasing this dream, to see the enthusiasm of our fans and their commitment, their passion, for our team, Atlanta United,” Blank exclaimed. “It just makes my heart really feel good. I know that sounds hokey but that’s how I feel.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber spoke to assembled media during halftime, admitting he arrived 10 minutes into the match (he was in Orlando earlier) and said of the scene at the sold-out Bobby Dodd Stadium: “I was just speechless, and I’m not speechless very often. This is just remarkable.”
Garber continued: “I want our league to be the sport for the New America. A diverse city like Atlanta is the New America. We’re not the sport for the fan who likes all the other sports. We’re the sport for the young fan but sees a sport and wants to paint his or her face.”
Finally, Garber said there was a three percent overlap of season ticket holders between United and the Falcons even though both teams share an owner. It speaks to the diverse and untapped base that loves soccer in Atlanta.
Shots: 14-9, Atlanta
Shots on Target: 5-4, New York
Corner kicks: 6-5, New York
Fouls: 17-11, Atlanta
Saves: 4-3, Atlanta
Clearances: 19-15, Atlanta
Offside: 5-2, Atlanta
ATL – Yamil Asad (Tyrone Mears) 25′
NY – Daniel Royer (Sacha Kljestan) 76′
NY – Anton Walkes (OG)
NY – Sal Zizzo (yellow) 38′
ATL – Josef Martinez (yellow) 49′
NY – Damien Perrinelle (yellow) 66′
ATL – Carlos Carmona (red) 88′
Photos used in this article are by Itoro Umontuen and Atlanta United Football Club.