ATLANTA (AP) — They climbed atop podium in the center of the field, hoisted a trophy above their heads, and began bouncing up and down with feverish passion.
For Atlanta United, celebrating never gets old — though it is becoming routine.
Atlanta claimed its third title in less than nine months, holding off Minnesota United 2-1 in the final of the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday night.
“It’s a good feeling,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “Before the game, we talked again about being a winning club, winning trophies, being a big club. That’s what it’s about.”
Atlanta United jumped out to a 2-0 lead just 16 minutes into the game as Pity Martinez scored a goal and set up an own-goal by Minnesota with a nifty pass.
In the end, the home team barely managed to hang on. Minnesota United scored in the opening minutes of the second half and really turned up the pressure when Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was sent off with a red card, forcing Atlanta to finish the game with 10 players.
With the clock winding down, Michael Boxall had a chance to tie it but sent the ball over the crossbar with a shot from right in front. He collapsed to the turf, holding his hands over his face in disbelief.
In a matchup of teams that entered Major League Soccer together as expansion franchises in 2017, Atlanta United added to its trophy haul. They captured the MLS Cup last December, and then added the Campeones Cup with a victory over Mexican champion Club América two weeks ago.
“For sure, it’s a habit,” Guzan said. “Being there before, using our savviness, using our know-how of being in this situation, and ultimately finding a way to get the job done. We did that.”
Now, Atlanta has its first title in the 105-year-old U.S. national competition, a victory that ensures a return trip to the CONCACAF Champions League in 2020. United was eliminated this year by eventual champion Monterrey in the quarterfinals.
“We got experience this year,” coach Frank de Boer said. “Hopefully we’ll do better next year.”
Atlanta United becomes the first MLS team to qualify for the continental competition and joins five other teams that already claimed spots: América, UANL, Cruz Azul and León from Mexico’s Liga MX, as well as Jamaican squad Portmore United. Ten spots are still to be determined, including four more teams from MLS.
In the 10th minute, Atlanta United jumped ahead after Martinez passed off to Gonzalez Pirez sprinting into the area on the right side. He tried to return it back in front, but the ball deflected off Chase Gasper and took a wild bounce over the head of leaping goalkeeper Vito Mannone, who couldn’t quite reach it.
Atlanta added to its lead in the 16th. Justin Meram loped in off the left side, suddenly accelerated past a defender and passed in front to Martinez, who fired it past Mannone to give the home team a 2-0 lead.
It was a frustrating night for Atlanta star Josef Martinez, who has scored in an MLS record 12 straight games. He had two goals waved off by offside calls, had another chance thwarted by Mannone’s acrobatic save, and failed to control a pass that was delivered to him all alone in front of the goal.
After being dominated over the first 45 minutes, Minnesota United made a game of it.
Just over a minute into the second half, Kevin Molino passed into the area and Robin Lod was able to get it past Guzan with a side kick that caught the far post and ricocheted into the goal.
Cheered on by a small contingent of Loon supporters in the corner of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Minnesota pressed for the tying goal. The visitors caught a huge break in the 74th when Gonzalez Pirez grabbed at a player breaking into the clear and received a red card.
“We gave ourselves a huge hole to get out of,” Minnesota coach Adrian Heath said. “We’re disappointed but, hey, we move on.”
Atlanta United was able to hold on, setting up something that has become most familiar.
A trophy celebration.