For Atlanta United, winning trophies like Open Cup is "what big clubs do"

ATLANTA — Perhaps never did the U.S. Open Cup final feel more alive and vibrant than in Tuesday night's exhilarating clash between former expansion siblings Atlanta United and Minnesota United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Playing before an Open Cup final-record crowd of 35,709, Atlanta earned a title in a different way from the manner their fans are accustomed to — with a gutsy defensive effort and a 2-1 victory. After dominating the first half, only to concede early in the second and then see Leandro Gonzalez Pirez sent off with his second booking in the 74th minute, the hosts proved their championship pedigree by winning with clearance after clearance under heavy Minnesota pressure until the final seconds.

“I’m [really] happy,” said an exhausted Josef Martinez, in English, in his opening postgame remarks. Martinez failed to score — a rarity for a player currently on a 12-match scoring streak in the league — but his joy in winning his third trophy in Atlanta in less than a calendar year shone through.

“Playing here is a dream. I still get goosebumps every time I drive to this stadium,” Martinez added through a translator. “I love playing here. For me, it's the best stadium in the world. I've said it before, but the affection I receive from the fans here is something that can't be bought. I love the fans here. I love being here and I'm going to stay here until my time is up.”

This was a modest-sized gathering compared to some of the crowds that have filled the upper bowl of Mercedes-Benz Stadium to help Atlanta achieve numerous MLS attendance records. Yet what Tuesday's gathering lacked in quantity, it made up for with volume.

“Maybe the fans really don't know much about [U.S. Open Cup], but when they see us on the field competing for this and really wanting this, then everybody gets behind that. I think that's why everything was so loud,” said winger Julian Gressel. “I was on the bench the last 10 minutes and I tried to get everybody up because I feel like we needed it on the field. Another incredible night here in Atlanta, winning a trophy.”

Such nights are starting to feel almost routine. The defending MLS Cup champions lifted MLS Cup in this building less than nine months ago, and it raised another one — the second edition of the Campeones Cup — on Aug. 14. 

“The biggest clubs in the world win trophies,” said Gressel. “It doesn't matter if it's a Super Cup, if it's a Campeones Cup, if it's an Open Cup, whatever it is. That's what we've been doing the last year — obviously we've won three. We'd like to continue that because that's what big clubs do.”

Darren Eales told local media last week that he wants Atlanta United to become a dynasty, and wins like Tuesday only strengthen that narrative, not to mention opening the door for a return to the Concacaf Champions League in 2020. Atlanta were knocked out of the 2019 CCL in the quarterfinals after losing 3-1 to CF Monterrey on aggregate.

“It's nice to be in that competition again,” said Gressel. “A goal of mine is to play in the Club World [Cup], and you get there with a win in the Concacaf Champions League.”

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