ATLANTA — From the moment Yamil Asad stabbed the ball into the back of the net and Bobby Dodd Stadium threatened to crumble under the weight of celebrations it looked as if Atlanta United was set for a thrilling beginning to their history as a franchise.
But the realities of the regular season bit hard in the second half, as New York Red Bulls scored two unanswered goals that -- combined with missed United opportunities -- sent Atlanta crashing to a 2-1 defeat in its first ever regular season game on Sunday.
(NOTE: To watch a video feature on Atlanta United's opening contest and the atmosphere around the city, simply click "play" on the video box above.)
Even the outcome could not dampen the atmosphere created by 55,297 boisterous fans, however. And, despite the final score, the entire day could hardly be deemed a loss for the infant franchise embarking on its very first Major League Soccer campaign.
“It was awesome to play in front of [the crowd],” defender Michael Parkhurst said. “It was awesome to see. They tried to give us a lift there in the second half and we appreciated that but it wasn’t meant to be. If we have an atmosphere like that every game, it’s going to be an awesome place to play.”
From the tailgaters crowding The Varsity parking lot, to the red-and-black clad supporters lining North Avenue, Atlanta certainly appeared a city united by one sport on Sunday. And when Asad put the home team in front after 24 minutes, steering home a perfectly curled cross from Tyrone Mears, it appeared that the momentum created might well overwhelm the visitors, who created precious few scoring chances in a first half highlighted by United's speedy attack.
Atlanta so nearly doubled its lead just before the interval, only to see New York goalkeeper Luis Robles deny United striker Josef Martinez at point-blank range after Greg Garza's low, driven cross found the United striker in front of goal.
A missed opportunity after the half proved equally costly when Atlanta midfielder Miguel Almiron burst through clear on goal before attempting to chip Robles from just outside the penalty area. The keeper reacted quickly, however, palming the looping shot away.
The Red Bulls, who began to squeeze space and gain control of the contest as the second half waned, equalized via a corner kick that Daniel Royer headed home in the 76th minute. The visitors then pushed in front in the 82nd minute, as Kemar Lawrence and Bradley Wright-Phillips combined to force an own goal from United substitue defender Anton Walkes -- Lawrence's cross and Wright-Phillips' challenge allowing the ball to slide underneath the diving defender and off his leg.
“The question could be what happened in the last 15 minutes,” Atlanta United head coach Tata Martino said. “We were much closer to converting a second goal. And in a series of errors that we made, they turned the score around, but I think we had started to control the game again up until they scored the equalizer.”
Atlanta battled to find its own equalizer but saw time run out -- an ejection for United midfielder Carlos Carmona in the 88th minute digging a deeper hole for the home side.
Atlanta will look to claim its first-ever win on Sunday, March 12, when United travels to face fellow expansion franchise Minnesota United.