Atlanta United Win MLS Cup To End City’s Sports Title Drought

Photo credit © Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA (92.9 The Game via AP) — The players bounced up and down on a hastily erected stage in the middle of the field, confetti falling all around as they hoisted the championship trophy. It's a familiar scene at the end of any season. Only this time, a team from Atlanta was doing the honors.

The title drought in over in the A-T-L.

Josef Martinez and Franco Escobar scored goals, Brad Guzan came up with a couple of clutch saves and Atlanta United gave the city its first championship since 1995 with a 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup final Saturday night.

Cheered on by the largest crowd in franchise history, United captured the crown in just its second season to set off a huge celebration in a city that has known so much sporting heartbreak. Owner Arthur Blank lifted a trophy and got soaked with champagne — less than two years after his other team, the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, squandered a 25-point lead in an epic Super Bowl collapse.

"My first night in my new house in Atlanta, I went to bed at halftime of the Super Bowl," defender Jeff Larentowicz said. "I woke up and I read the headlines and I couldn't believe what I saw."

Now, United had written a new headline: Champs.

"Hopefully, we can transcend that past," Larentowicz said, "and move on to a new future for the city."

Martinez, capping the greatest goal-scoring season in MLS history, put United ahead in 39th minute. Escobar added an insurance goal in the 54th, turning the final minutes into a raucous, flag-waving celebration and sending coach Tata Martino out with a title in his final game as coach. He's reportedly headed to Mexico to take over as that country's national coach.

"If I had to choose the way to leave somewhere, this is the best way," Martino said. "This is the way I wanted it to happen."

Martinez, the league's MVP and Golden Boot winner after scoring 31 goals during the regular season, cut to his right to escape the sprawling Portland keeper, easily sliding the ball into an open net to send the packed house into an uproar.

"I was feeling a lot of pressure before the game," said Martinez, who added four more goals in the playoffs. "My neighbors were putting flags all around my house and pushing notes under my door."

Atlanta reveled in its first title since the Braves won the 1995 World Series — a gap of 8,442 days, for those counting.

"Most of us aren't from here, so we don't know the pain that they've been through," said United captain Michael Parkhurst, who finally broke his own drought after playing on four runner-up teams. "I'm just happy that we could come through for them tonight. I know there were a lot of anxious and stressed-out fans."

Atlanta United carried the sport to unprecedented levels in North America. The team shattered the MLS attendance record a year ago in its first season, and then took the mark even higher by averaging more than 53,000 per game this year — a level of support that would fit right in with the Premier League or La Liga. The crowd of 73,019 on Saturday easily eclipsed the previous record for an MLS Cup — 61,316 at New England's Gillette Stadium in 2002.

Almost as soon as the final whistle blew, a victory parade through the streets of Atlanta was announced for Monday.

"It's not every day you get to win a title," Guzan said, speaking for an entire city. "To be a part of this is truly special."