5 Reasons Why Atlanta United Will Win The MLS Cup

Atlanta United has set the standard for MLS expansion teams this year, from breaking the MLS attendance record to becoming the fourth expansion team to make the playoffs in its inaugural season. Now that the playoffs are here, Atlanta has a legitimate chance to take home the MLS Cup. 

Expansion teams in MLS don’t have a stellar record of success, with just four of 14 even making the playoffs. The Chicago Fire won the double with the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup in 1998, but the league was much younger then, with fewer challengers. With 22 teams now in the league, success is ever harder to come by, not least because the talent pool is more diluted.

But Atlanta United has hit the ground running like Gareth Bale on a counter attack. With well-planned management, expert coaching, players executing on the pitch and a wonderfully fervent fan base, Atlanta can win the MLS Cup. Here’s why.

Atlanta is nearly unbeatable at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

United opens the playoffs with a home match against the Columbus Crew on Thursday. The key word is home. Since opening Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 10, Atlanta is 5-1-2 at home, scoring more than three goals per match with all five victories coming in shutout fashion. United set Major League Soccer's all-time season attendance record this year, averaging 48,200 fans per home match despite playing half of the season at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium. 

Atlanta United

Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Photo: @TSN_Sports | Twitter  

Although Atlanta stumbled in a 3-2 loss to fellow expansion team Minnesota United on Oct. 3, a 2-2 draw with Toronto (the only team with a winning record on the road) in the final match of the season was enough to ensure a home game against Columbus in the one round you want home-field advantage most. Since the knockout round was instituted in 2011, only three teams (out of 16) have won the single-game playoff on the road. 


After the knockout round, Atlanta is guaranteed one home match per each round it reaches. The conference semifinals and finals will both be two-legged, home-and-home affairs and given their recent home form, United will like its chances to get enough from that leg to advance.

The final will be hosted by the team with the most points and because Atlanta has a better record than every team in the West, United would host the final should they make it. If Atlanta reached the MLS Cup championship game and played at home in front of 70,000 fans, who would you put your money on? Plus, this city is desperate for a winner after the Patriots broke Atlanta hearts in last season's Super Bowl. 

Atlanta doesn’t lose often on the road

United has lost six times on the road in 17 matches. While that may seem like it’s not a stellar record, keep in mind that only Toronto FC lost fewer road games (four). The average road losses for MLS playoff teams this season is nine, with no one in the West losing fewer than eight road games. 

The key for Atlanta has been earning draws on the road — seven to be precise. The four road wins is tied for fifth best in the league but by picking up a share of the spoils away from home Atlanta will be able to keep its dream season moving along in the playoffs. 

United hasn’t lost a road game since Aug. 23 (a surprising 1-0 setback to last-place D.C. United). Combine Atlanta’s form at home with their ability to earn draws on the road and United will be a tough out in the playoffs.


Atlanta has a blend of youth and experience

Atlanta is youthful, but not too young, experienced, but not too old. The team represents a well-worked blend of the old and the new that could lend itself to a strong playoff run. 

In the back the experienced hands of 33-year-old goalkeeper Brad Guzan and feet of 33-year-old defender Michael Parkhurst lead the way. Guzan spent the better part of the last decade in the English Premier League while Parkhurst, who leads the team in minutes played, has been around, with seven prior MLS seasons to go with experience playing in the Bundesliga and Danish Superliga. 

Atlanta United

Josef Martinez. Photo: @3ptCnvrsn | Twitter

Up front there’s more youth and energy, led by perhaps the revelation of the season, Josef Martinez. The 24-year-old Venezuelan came over from Torino in Serie A and is the oldest of three designated players (Hector Villalba and Miguel Almiron are both 23). He’s torched opponents with 19 goals in 20 appearances, scoring a goal every 112 minutes.

Midfielders Villalba and Almiron are right behind him, with the Argentinian Villalba tallying 13 goals and 11 assists and the Paraguayan Almiron notching nine goals and a team-high 14 assists. Their youth (and legs) will be key after a long MLS season. 

And that’s not even mentioning USMNT U-17 players Andrew Carleton and Chris Goslin — who are just now coming back from the U-17 World Cup, where they helped the Americans reach the quarterfinals — plus old MLS veterans like Bobby Boswell and Jeff Larentowicz to provide leadership in the locker room. 

Atlanta has the best coach

The coaching in MLS has never been better, in part because the league has been around long enough now that 15 of the 22 head coaches played in the league. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be a stretch — or even an insult to the other coaches — to say Gerardo Tata Martino is the best coach in MLS. 

How many other MLS coaches have coached in the Champions League? How many other MLS coaches have coached in the World Cup? How many other MLS coaches have coached Lionel Messi? 

Atlanta United

Tata Martino. Photo: @miljugadas | Twitter

Martino guided Atlanta to 55 points in the regular season, a total only bettered by Toronto FC and New York City FC. United’s plus-30 goal differential is second only to Toronto FC’s 37. 

While Martino may not have intricate knowledge of MLS workings, he has a staff that does, led by technical director Carlos Bocanegra. President Darren Eales spent time in the Tottenham front office and Arthur Blank has done more than is expected of an owner to ensure the success of the team. 

Atlanta United might be new to the MLS scene, but they’ve already built one of the best staffs in the league. 


Atlanta is hot at the right time

In American sports, getting hot in the playoffs is often more important than having a good regular season. Major League Soccer is no different. Not a single No. 1 seed has reached the MLS Cup final since 2012. 

Atlanta is hot right now. United hasn’t lost to an MLS team not named United (Minnesota or D.C.) since June 10. Neither Minnesota nor D.C. is in the playoffs (nor is Miami FC, which also beat Atlanta in that span). 

Atlanta United

Atlanta United fans. Photo: @FootyScouted | Twitter

Part of that hot streak is down to playing eight of their final 10 games at MBS due to a back-loaded home schedule awaiting the opening of their sterling new stadium. But it’s also down to a team that is finding its rhythm after an indifferent start to the season. 

If Atlanta United keeps its form, they have to be seen as a favorite to win it all. Toronto FC may be the favorite after a record-breaking regular-season, but favorites don’t typically win the MLS Cup. This could be Atlanta’s year. Unless Tom Brady starts playing for the Sounders. 

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