The calendar has flipped to 2019 but we still have a little bit of time to wait before Atlanta United return to the field.
So what better time to look at the year that was for Atlanta United and hand out some theoretical hardware. Here are the Atlanta United Awards as judged by me for no good reason.
Eric Remedi made this a much closer race than most would have expected, and Darlington Nagbe fantastic but Escobar proved himself to be another steal out of South America once he stopped catching Brad Guzan’s hands. Once healthy, Escobar swung back and forth from center back to right back and as time went on he made it clear he was not going to be taken off the field. Tata Martino was vocal in the playoffs that the Escobar who terrorized New York is the one they saw when they made the purchase in the first place.
From here on out this award will be named after the recipient of Atlanta’s first ever red card. Also the guy who just kept things moving in 2017.
So it goes that the guy who wins it in 2018 basically filled the void of Caroma in Martino’s system and just went out there and did his thing. Atlanta did not need Nagbe to be a world beating monster as they already had a few of those. They just asked him to go play his game and he did just that. There were no goals in 2018 and only two assists but go back and look at how many plays started with either a turnover from Nagbe or a key pass.
Another nice bit of business by the front office, Ambrose was taken from Orlando City in the expansion draft and was pushed into duty in 2018 when everyone got injured. Ambrose proved that he belongs in this league and then went down to USL turned into a left-footed Kevin Kratz for a night. Despite his season getting cut short due to injury, Ambrose showed Atlanta, and more importantly the rest of the league, that he is here to stay for a while.
I’m not specifying here because Tito was responsible for the most insane individual shot that found the back of the net (San Jose) and finished off the most beautiful team goal of the year (at Philadelphia) so let’s just make peace with Tito getting an award named after him the same way Carmona just did.
This doesn’t include Tito running past the Columbus defenders and cutting across the top of the box before finishing a shot across his body or his emotional goal against Red Bulls where the behind-the-goal angle showed a left footed cutter that was not going to be stopped.
This is just the ‘What time did Tito do the most Tito thing’ award.
The answer is San Jose.
Josef Martinez - Orlando City
Josef took a pass, stopped on a dime, cut it back right and chipped Joe Bendik to drop a boulder on Orlando’s already broken legs and then he stared Bendik down as he lightly jogged over, having just broken the MLS single season record.
It was mean and it felt like both team’s seasons compressed into one moment.
Darlington Nagbe - NYCFC
Darlington Nagbe actually did put the ball in the back of the net and he absolutely sent a ball through three dimensions on the way there.
Trouble was, Josef was offside and interfered with Sean Johnson so the goal was disallowed. VAR had some rude and some polite moments in 2018 and this was one of the toughest to swallow because Sean Johnson’s only option in that moment was to pray for the goal to be disallowed.
Side note, this game was weird as hell. Garza had a put-back off a rebound, Chris McCann scored a goal, Jo Inge Berget drew a penalty...I could go on and on. It was fun but man was it odd.
Eastern Conference Finals: Leg 1
Atlanta United had never beaten the New York Red Bulls going into the playoffs and then they ran them out of Mercedes Benz Stadium. Confusingly enough, New York went away from their bread and butter and got put in a hole far too deep to crawl out of. Winning a few weeks prior in Yankee Stadium was outstanding but taking the air out of the tie in 90 minutes with Tito’s emotional goal to lock it up in stoppage time will be talked about for years.
Away to Toronto
You can argue this is the team’s best loss, since they took a long look in the mirror and rebounded to roll through the playoffs but man was it ugly.
Atlanta needed a win to lock up the Supporters Shield and the record for most points in a single season. Instead they got flattened by a Toronto team that had nothing but pride to play for. Yes, it may have been their Super Bowl but Atlanta had caught everyone’s best shot all season and this was the worst time to fold up.
The aftermath was great. The 90 minutes of soccer were the exact opposite.
Josef Martinez just had the greatest single season in MLS history. He deserves every award he has earned and should probably be made into a statue riding the Falcon outside the stadium while glaring down at all of us like we are Joe Bendik or something.
I just want to make sure that is clear when I say that Miguel Almiron was the most valuable player on this club in 2018. He powered this steam engine of doom and when he leaves he will exit as one of the best players to ever pass through MLS. Never forget how much fun he has been or how much fun he looks like he’s having while destroying everyone. This team was different without Miguel and it will be different when he leaves.