Head coach Jesse Marsch would have wanted a stellar performance at Atlanta United’s Bobby Dodd Stadium, to wash away the memories of the New York Red Bulls’ terrible CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal campaign. But he didn’t get it.
RBNY was down a goal from the 25th minute, as Atlanta quickly learned it could dominate its opponent in wide areas. A Tyrone Mears cross looped over the back line and found Yamil Asad for a tap-in. It was Atlanta United’s first-ever goal in MLS, and a packed stadium enjoyed the moment.
Once the first goal went in, Atlanta unquestionably had the better of the game, but not Luis Robles who repeatedly charged off his line to snuff out breakaways and pulled off some crucial saves.
At the other end the Red Bulls were having difficulty creating clear chances. Outplayed for much of the game, the team somehow got to the last 15 minutes only trailing by a goal. Felipe tried to get his side on board with a shot from distance, and Atlanta ‘keeper Alec Kann bobbled the shot - almost giving Daniel Royer a goal off the rebound. But the ball was scrambled away for a corner. There was no time to lament the latest incomplete opportunity for RBNY: Sacha Kljestan drove the set piece to the far post, and Royer emphatically headed past Kann.
Surprisingly, RBNY was level after 76 minutes. The team did not dwell on its good fortune. Six minutes later, Royer had the ball at his feet and the Atlanta back line in front of him. He played an angled pass wide left, finding Mike Grella in space. Grella dribbled toward the box, then dinked a back-heeled pass to an overlapping Kemar Lawrence. With very little space to aim for, Lawrence curled a cross perfectly to Bradley Wright-Phillips in front of goal. 2-1 to the visitors.
On closer look at the replays, it was Atlanta United Defender Anton Walkes who accidentally put the ball into the back of his net while trying to stay close to BWP. Atlanta United had its first-ever own goal, and was headed for its first-ever loss.
Carlos Carmona allowed himself to be frustrated by Felipe’s gamesmanship, giving a little tap to the Brazilian with his boot. Referee Mark Geiger saw the incident, and Carmona became the first-ever Atlanta player to be sent off in MLS.
Playing a man up for the last couple of minutes, RBNY held on for the 2-1 win.
Give Atlanta United a lot of credit. The team was relentless in attack and had the better of RBNY on both sides of the ball for long periods of the game. And a sold-out Bobby Dodd Stadium provided a memorable atmosphere
The Red Bulls did not have a good match, but this was a gutty and gritty comeback from a team that desperately wanted to get out of the shadow of its CCL performances. And after all the hoopla of RBNY’s off-season, it is nice to finally start talking about what’s happening on the field. The Red Bulls will shoot for a more polished performance at Red Bull Arena on March 11, when Colorado Rapids come to town for RBNY’s MLS 2017 home-opener.