MARIETTA, Ga. — Before Atlanta United ever kicked a ball, club president Darren Eales made it clear what he wanted the team to provide fans: fun, attractive soccer with lots of goals. Essentially, anything to drum up interest.
Fast forward to today. Atlanta United have no problem getting fans in the door and filling up the cavernous home venue that is Mercedes-Benz Stadium. With back-to-back 70-goal seasons to begin the club's history, it’s safe to say Eales & Co. delivered on the promise he made years earlier. And now, after securing an MLS Cup and a Campeones Cup in the last nine months, the club aims for a new identity.
“Our identity is we’re a team that wins trophies,” Eales told Atlanta United’s flagship radio station 92.9 The Game in Atlanta last week. “That’s what we are trying to create here — a team that is a dynasty, a team that can win championships every year.”
Wednesday night’s U.S. Open Cup final (8 PM ET | ESPN+) isn’t just an opportunity for Atlanta to lift its second piece of hardware this month, it’s a chance to deliver on establishing a new ethos. No longer are ATLUTD the team with the most talent, the best attack, and the MVP favorite. What they are is a team that knows how to win big games like they face tonight.
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“We've played in big games, maybe even bigger games in MLS Cup at home,” Julian Gressel told media on the eve of the final. “You had all the 'we're the favorite' [storylines], all those kinds of things that you kind of feel like you've been in this position before.”
The test Atlanta faces Tuesday against their MLS expansion siblings Minnesota United is less about proving their technical dominance than it is to demonstrate they possess the intangible qualities required to win titles. The player who has more experience than anyone for either team in doing so is Pity Martinez, who at the age of just 26 has already won 10 club trophies in his career.
“The objective is to win tomorrow. We have to show that Atlanta’s a big club, a club that teams have to respect,” Pity Martinez said through a translator Monday. “This is a young club. Some of the guys haven’t won a title yet in their careers. [Florentin] Pogba, for example, that was his first championship. But I think the fact that we beat Club America, one of the best teams from Central America, gives you confidence as a club.”
The final is about the trophy, sure, but on the macro-scale, it’s about much more than that. For Atlanta United, the U.S. Open Cup final is about pedigree. It’s about dominance. It’s about the club’s new identity.
“I think as a young player and as a football player, you want to win games,” head coach Frank de Boer said Monday. “But at the end, when you finish your career, you want to see what you’ve won, what you did with your football career. This is one of them. You want to have something on your list. This is certainly one of them. It’s very important for everyone, for the club of course, for the individual player, as a team. We are eager to win this prize.”