Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez (left) and midfielder Miguel Almiron charge the field to celebrate winning the MLS CUP on Saturday, Dec 8, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Curse? Atlanta United gives city reason to celebrate

What curse?

Atlanta United did its part in adding glory to a town that too often has lived with misery. In just its second season, Atlanta United captured a championship, one of just four by professional sports franchises in the city and the first in a major league since the 1995 Braves.

Atlanta United defeated Portland 2-0 to capture the MLS Cup on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Not anymore,” Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel said of the notion of a curse. “I’ve heard people say that but it’s not anymore. Ever since we’ve come into the league, I said it this week, we kind of changed the whole way people look at Atlanta as a sports town. We get the fans and the crowd support and it’s incredible. It’s really for them.”

How loud were the MLS Cup record 73,019 fans who packed the stadium with a cheering that intensified as the outcome became more and more apparent with each passing second?

“My ears are ringing,” Gressel said well after the game in a locker room soaked with champagne and beer. “Is that a good description?”

Holding the two-goal lead with about 10 minutes remaining in regulation, Atlanta United goaltender Brad Guzan turned to the crowd and motioned for even more noise. An invitation for them to really cut loose in celebration. Those are special moments when the outcome is all but decided.

“You started to sense that they tossed in the towel a little bit,” Guzan said of the opponent, who tried unsuccessfully all night to counter Atlanta United. “The first goal is always going to be massive one way or another. To get the first one was big. To get the second one, the second one really broke their backs.”

Still, as the clock hit 90 minutes, the celebration had to wait for five minutes of stoppage time.

“Around 73, 74 (minutes),” said Jeff Larentowicz when asked at what point the felt the outcome was all but determined. “As the game gets later and later you see the mentality of the other team kind of drop. … The last 15 minutes we kept counting it down. We kept pushing. You know they are going to raise a big number for extra time.”

Those minutes came and went.

At last there was a long-awaited celebration for a franchise, a fan base, a city.

And now, come Monday, a parade.

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