ATLANTA — Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank received the perfect gift for his 75th birthday today: a spot for his team in the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Following the team’s 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Union, the sellout crowd serenaded “Uncle Arthur” with “Happy Birthday.” It was a special day for Blank, and a special day for Atlanta United, who became the fourth MLS expansion team in the league history to make the playoffs, joining the 1998 Chicago Fire, the 1998 Miami Fusion, and the 2009 Seattle Sounders.
“I’d be lying if I said that that wasn’t one of the goals, one of the expectations for the season,” Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino said through a translator in the post-match press conference. “Because we have really good players, and I knew the type of players that we were bringing in.”
He added: “I don’t think it’s a good excuse to say that, ‘Well, only a certain amount of teams have made the playoffs as an expansion team.'”
Jeff Larentowicz, who played center back tonight in place of a resting Michael Parkhurst, also emphasized the team never wanted to use their expansion status as an excuse for missing out on the postseason.
“We’ve been focusing on it all year; it’s been our goal,” he said. “We’ve had ups and downs, but I think this stretch, we’ve really just pushed and gotten ourselves over the edge. It’s a huge accomplishment for us.”
Larentowicz also said the team is ready for some rest following a six-game homestand in just over two weeks.
“I think everyone’s ready to hit a pillow somewhere,” he said.
But Martino isn’t ready to rest his team just yet, at least not when the second seed in the Eastern Conference — and the first-round bye that comes with it — is still up for grabs. The Five Stripes are currently in third place in the East, three points behind New York City FC.
“We’re going to try and go for that second spot,” the manager said.
Josef Martinez, who scored his 18th goal of the season tonight, says he feels “phenomenal” as his team tries to overtake NYCFC in the Eastern Conference table and make a deep playoff run from there.
And when a reporter inquired if he was aiming to win the Golden Boot this season, he was quick to respond.
“No, I’m thinking about a championship,” he said. “I can buy a golden boot in the store.”