Braves/Twins in 1991. Falcons/Patriots in 2017. And now, Atlanta United FC and Columbus Crew SC.
As the two sides fired jaw-dropping shots off the post and goalies laid out to preserve a nil-nil tie through regulation and overtime, it became clear that Thursday night’s Atlanta/Columbus match wasn’t just one of the best matches in the franchise’s short history, it was an all-timer for MLS Soccer in general.
On a night when both sides played so beautifully, so lyrically, that it felt like the victor would be highly deserving regardless of which squad prevailed, what a shame, indeed, that it had to be decided by something as flippant as penalty kicks.
In the 118th minute, as Atlanta goalie Brad Guzan came off his line to try to prevent a shot, a header was fired past him, and it seemed yet another “Atlanta sports moment” had just been initiated. But Michael Parkhurst appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, to provide the deflection that kept the city’s playoff hopes alive.
Then, to penalties. Four tries, one score. For Columbus, four tries, three scores. Columbus advances.
It was another Atlanta sports team that faced defeat in front of a home crowd that poured its heart out and deserved nothing less than a win. But that heart, that togetherness, is what made the night all the more memorable.
Regardless of the outcome, pro soccer had been established in Atlanta well before its first-ever home playoff match. In front of a crowd of 67,221 – nearly 6,000 more people than had attended any other postseason MLS match in history, and twice the attendance of any previous knockout round matches – the world was yet again watching in awe as Atlanta United battled in one of the most electric soccer environments on the planet.
The crowds will roar again, and they’ll set records. But this year, as is true with most years in the city of Atlanta, it just wasn’t meant to be.
We’ll see you in March.Follow @Sean_Breslin