ATLANTA — A champagne-drenched Brad Guzan stood in front of a gaggle of reporters in the wake of Atlanta United’s first-ever U.S. Open Cup final win Tuesday, patiently explaining how his team survived a second-half red card to hold on for a 2-1 win over Minnesota United, and what the win means for the club among a barrage of questions.
Somewhere in his responses, Guzan added, “We understand what it’s about to win trophies and win big tournaments, but ultimately, there’s a big one later on in a few months, and so, we’ve got a big game Saturday.”
This weekend, Atlanta will continue its march to repeat as MLS Cup champions with one of its most important matches of the league season, as the team battles it’s top-of-the-East rivals in the Philadelphia Union (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; DAZN in Canada). While the champagne supernova happening in Atlanta United’s dressing room felt so similar to last year’s MLS Cup celebration, there’s one very significant difference.
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“It’s tough because MLS Cup was the end of it. It was kind of done,” said Julian Gressel with a beer in tow. “With the Campeones Cup it was a good and fun night, but it wasn’t as big as this. This is something we’ll enjoy tonight, recover tomorrow, and then, all focus goes to Philly.”
Atlanta United, from the executive boardroom to the players on the pitch to the supporters in the stands, have eyes on more than any single trophy. They — the collective — want to win everything. That means Campeones Cups, U.S. Open Cups, MLS Cups, Champions Leagues, and eventually even a Club World Cup. They aren’t afraid to share their ambitions.
“We have to win every tournament that we play in,” said striker Josef Martinez through a translator. “When one plays in Concacaf, a lot of people aren’t interested in that, but we are very interested. We have to win everything, every game, every final, whatever it is. We have to play to win.”
To reclaim MLS Cup, Atlanta have a big challenge in front of them. Not only will the team have to navigate a new, tricky playoff format where one poor performance can make dreams disappear, but if they do make it to the final, they could potentially face off against one of the best teams in MLS history — Los Angeles Football Club.
In many ways, LAFC represent what Atlanta United were this time last year — a talented, well-coached team running roughshod over league competition, but without hardware to validate their exhilarating on-field performance. Atlanta, on the other hand, have seemingly grown to a new stage of the club’s life, proving a championship pedigree again and gaining experience playing in finals.
“[Winning is] a habit,” Guzan said. “We’ve talked about this being our home, this being, you know a familiar feeling, to host the final. Being here, using our savviness, using our know-how of being in this situation, and then ultimately, finding a way to get the job done, and we did that.”