SEATTLE – Atlanta United knew they were in for the biggest test of their inaugural season when they waltzed into CenturyLink Field on Friday night to take on the defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders without a handful of their key contributors.
After a 0-0 draw that saw his team leave CenturyLink with a hard-fought road point, Atlanta head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino said he feels as though it’s fair to say his team passed that first big exam.
“To tie on the road with the reigning champion is definitely a positive,” Martino said through a translator after the game. “When the games are difficult and competitive, we learned that we can fight and that we can be in these games.
“Against these top teams, you have to fight for 93-94 minutes. You have to be intense the whole game because teams like Dallas, Seattle, New York, Portland, Houston, Toronto, you have to compete for 90-plus minutes.”
Already without forward Josef Martinez, who is out 4-6 weeks with a quad injury, Atlanta’s starting XI on Friday also didn’t feature midfielders Miguel Almiron and Carlos Carmona or forward Kenwyne Jones – all of whom were in the 18 but were rested after returning from national team duty.
According to defender and former Sounder Tyrone Mears, the fact that Atlanta managed to procure the road point in spite of those absences shows that his squad has already developed some impressive mettle through its first four games.
“It says that we’ve got a very good squad, a squad that can compete,” Mears said. “We were missing some fantastic players and those guys are important for us. Josef has been great scoring goals and he’s a problem for defenders.
“But the guys who have come in have done really well. We’re going to need that. It’s a long season, lots of traveling. I think it’s good and it gives other coaches problems and headaches.”
Friday’s match may have featured more up-and-down play and attacking fireworks than your typical 0-0 draw. But given the raucous environment at CenturyLink and Seattle’s vaunted attack that included star playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro, forward Jordan Morris and a cameo from Clint Dempsey as a second-half substitute, the defensive effort was a particularly notable takeaway.
The center back pairing of Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez look to have developed an especially strong rapport, with Atlanta still yet to give up a goal from the run of play with Gonzalez Pirez on the field following Friday’s match.
“It was a tough atmosphere to play in,” said Atlanta defender Greg Garza. “You’re playing against the defending champions so it’s an exciting game for us to be an expansion to come here and get a point off them. It feels good.”