Atlanta United secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference after beating the New England Revolution 3-1 on MLS Decision Day. It was a momentous occasion for many reasons, including retiring club captain Michael Parkhurst’s tribute.
Atlanta United knew the stakes going into Decision Day. NYCFC had already secured the first seed before the final day of the regular season, so it was a battle for the second seed between Atlanta and the Philadelphia Union. Because Atlanta United and the Union were equal on points, all Atlanta needed to do was earn the same result as the Union and Atlanta would be guaranteed the second seed due to wins being the tiebreaker. The Union ended up losing 2-0 to NYCFC, leaving them in the third seed for the 2019 playoffs.
Atlanta United welcomed Ezequiel Barco and Josef Martinez back to the starting lineup as Jeff Larentowics and Emerson Hyndman came in for Eric Remedi and Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez.
Barco has missed most of the season due to international team commitments with Argentina. Martinez suffered an injury to his leg during the San Jose match on Sep. 21st that many initially thought would keep him out for the rest of the season, including playoffs.
Pity’s and Remedi’s absences were most likely tactical. Atlanta and New England both knew they would likely be facing off again in the first round of playoffs, so it’s possible that Atlanta manager Frank de Boer wanted to keep a few tricks up his sleeve.
Atlanta United came looking for a win in the opening minutes of the match. Atlanta moved the ball quickly from one flank to the other and eventually found Julian Gressel on Atlanta’s right side. Gressel sliced a ball through New England’s penalty area and found Darlington Nagbe to the right of the penalty spot and coolly put the ball into the far post side netting to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead in just the third minute.
Atlanta United nearly scored two more against the Revs in the minutes after the opening goal but couldn’t capitalize. In the 7th minute, Christian Penilla capitalized on Atlanta defender Franco Escobar’s error and scored an equalizer for the Revolution.
Atlanta would have to wait for the second half to see another goal, but what a goal it was. Three minutes into the second half Gressel sent in a curling through ball from Atlanta’s defensive half to put Martinez through on goal for a fine finish. After putting the Five Stripes up once again, Martinez jogged to the Atlanta bench and celebrated his goal with Parkhurstss
In the 56th minute, Gressel capped off his man of the match performance with a goal that is worthy of the goal of the season. Hovering just inside the Revolution penalty area, Gressel smashed the ball with his first touch across the face of the goal and into the far post to give the Five Stripes a more secure lead.
Despite the important win, the highlight of the night was the tribute that the Atlanta United faithful gave to the club’s first-ever captain.
Parkhurst stepped onto the field in the 78th minute to a standing ovation. The fans continued to cheer for the captain after play resumed and chants of “MI-CHAL PARK-HURST” rang through Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the remainder of the night. After the match, the halo board played a video with messages of praise and congratulations from teammates and coaches, past and present. Club president Darren Eales gave him a framed Parkhurst jersey and former New England teammate Brad Knighton handed Parkhurst a retirement gift on behalf of the New England Revolution.
Atlanta United faces the Revolution in an extremely high stakes rematch for the first round of the playoffs on Oct. 19th at 1 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Photo Credits: Kyle Soto
Kyle Soto is a volunteer at The Wolf. Follow him on Twitter @kyledsoto for more soccer content.