Fight to the finish: Late comeback in Philly fuels Atlanta's playoff hopes

CHESTER, Pa. — Tyrone Mears knew Atlanta United FC couldn’t afford to come away with zero points from a two-game road swing through D.C. and Philadelphia, especially with a daunting eight-games-in-24-days stretch looming.

So he decided to do something about it.

With Atlanta down a goal and up a man, Mears’ stoppage-time goal salvaged a big point for a club in need of as many as they can get as they chase a playoff berth in their debut season.

“It was massive,” Mears told reporters after the 2-2 road draw with Philly on Saturday. “We were looking at six points from these two games. It’s not happened. The way the game was tonight, we were kicking ourselves. But great spirit from the guys. We kept going and now we can look at a lot of games at home.”

Following an international break, Atlanta will play their first-ever game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 10. They then have five more home games in a row over the next two weeks, a compressed schedule one pitfall of playing in a recently built stadium that had some construction delays.

But the ATL players are more eager to get inside their new digs than they are wary of such a grueling stretch — even more so now that they go into it following a gutsy comeback result.

“It’s massive with the new stadium; playing there is going to be awesome,” said Mears, who scored his first goal of the season after entering in the 75th minute. “And the fans are going to fill it. So we can’t ask for a better opportunity than that.”

During their upcoming home stretch that will make or break their season, Atlanta will certainly hope to avoid falling behind by two goals as they did vs. Philly on Saturday. But they do hope to show what Mears called their “fighting spirit,” as they've now scored a goal in the final few minutes to tie or win in four of their last five contests.

“You can’t always choose when you score goals,” head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said through a translator. “The good thing for us is, guys are at least fighting. They’re fighting all game. Even in the game against D.C. [a 1-0 loss Wednesday], Josef [Martinez] had a chance right at the end. The positive thing for us is it shows guys are trying to score the whole game.”

And buoyed by Saturday’s road point, Martino, too, is eager to see what his group is made of during their upcoming games at Mercedes-Benz.

“As a new franchise, we realize every game is going to be tough for us,” Martino said. “We know we’re going to be fighting until the end of the season. Tonight it was important to get a result."