With one win in their first six games, defending MLS Cup champions Atlanta United will take inspiration wherever they can find it.
On Saturday, it was one of the usual sources, third-year midfielder Julian Gressel, who delivered the game-winner in a 1-0 win against the Colorado Rapids, but Gressel had a little inspiration of his own for this one.
“That [goal celebration was] Damian Lillard-inspired,” Gressel told reporters after the game. “I think he had a quote after that [NBA Playoffs series-winning 3-pointer]. I forget it now, but he had a great little quote about a silent warrior that wins the fight. So it was a little bit of that.”
Gressel may not have had to keep his cool while being mobbed to the floor like Lillard, and there were definitely no direct postseason implications, but his near-post finish in the 74th minute could be a moment Atlanta United look back on as a turning point.
“These games are probably the toughest ones to play in. It wasn’t the prettiest, but we found a way, and that’s all that matters,” Gressel said after his fifth career game-winning goal.
Atlanta outshot Colorado 15-6 and held 66.3% of the possession against a squad Gressel believes came simply hoping for a tie.
“That team didn’t come here to try and win the game,” Gressel said. “They wanted to sit back and really just defend. Obviously, an early goal would’ve helped us. We kept patient and kept working and finally had the breakthrough.”
Having broken through for a first home MLS win of the year, Atlanta now face four of their next six games on the road, starting at Sporting Kansas City next Sunday. United are 1-2-0 on the road in 2019 after leading MLS with a 10-5-2 road record last season.