By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON DC (Sep 15, 2017) US Soccer Players - Before there can be any confusion on the matter, let’s first establish that it’s not all that difficult for a game with a 7-0 score line to stand out. Blowouts of that magnitude are rare in the sport, as a rule. Seven goals conceded represents such a complete capitulation in the modern professional game that it always draws attention.
Games like that are rare. Two that stand out from recent memory are Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of Brazil at the 2014 World Cup and the New York Red Bulls 7-0 embarrassment of NYCFC last season. That Brazil game happened on home soil. NYCFC's loss happened against the backdrop of a burgeoning soccer rivalry in America’s biggest sports market.
Atlanta United’s 7-0 win over the New England Revolution on Wednesday night didn’t have the undertones of a home World Cup or rivalry. Still, it does seem more significant than even a 7-0 score line would usually seems. The two red cards given to the visitors need mentioning since they obviously played a role in Atlanta’s ability to pile on the goals. However, even before going down to 10 and then nine men the Revolution looked out of place.
These are two clubs utilizing very different philosophies with very different identities. As evidenced by the results, the standings, and the style of their play, they're also two clubs heading in very different directions.
It’s admittedly dramatic to see one match in mid-September as emblematic of the big picture directions of two soccer clubs. MLS is barely more than two decades old. Atlanta is playing their first-ever season. New England is a four-time MLS Cup finalist with a pedigree that dates back to the birth of the league, as relatively recent as that is. What can one match really mean?
Maybe not much, at least in the standings. As a symbolic expression of what Atlanta is, and what New England is not? One game says plenty.
Here’s something Atlanta United managed to do in their multi-purpose stadium, ahead of a weekend when they expect to draw over 70,000. They made the game feel big. The stage provided by Mercedes-Benz Stadium allows for the type of “big event’ feel that so often eludes Major League Soccer. This is not an issue of crowd size, but of the venue itself and of an intangible feeling the pervades, both in-person and on television.
Seattle has it. Portland has it. San Jose’s game at Stanford Stadium occasionally fit the bill. BMO Field in Toronto has created the necessary energy in recent years, especially with seating expansion and the rise of the club on the field.
Credit goes to investor/operator Arthur Blank, to the designers of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and to the fans of Atlanta for showing up from day one to support their new team.
Atlanta’s success with the big game vibe is more than enough to indict the Revolution for failing to find something similar in 22 seasons. New England remains mired in an old school MLS situation, sharing their stadium with a football team whose presence is, and will always be, much more important. Atlanta United is establishing themselves as co-tenants in a building build to make them feel at home, while the Revolution look like they’re trespassing on their own turf each and every time they take the field at Gillette Stadium.
The verve with which Atlanta United built their squad and went after MLS success further sets them apart. Driving a wedge between the relative quality of Atlanta United and New England is difficult. It's tempting to overstate any differences. Atlanta is only seven points ahead in the standings, after all. That said, there’s something clearly different about the mentality of the two teams.
Atlanta swashbuckled their way into their first season with a slew of intriguing signings, then swashbuckled their way through three-quarters of the campaign with a distinct high-pressure, technical style that belies those signings.
New England has talented players, including Lee Nguyen, Juan Agudelo, and Kelyn Rowe, but never seems sure of who they are or what they want to be under Jay Heaps. Let's call the leadership in New England “passable". The rising expectations of the modern MLS driven, in part, by clubs like Atlanta is starting to shine a harsh glare on their failures.
There's a simpler way to look at what Atlanta United is in year one and what New England still is in year 22. Atlanta represents the MLS ideal while New England seems like a relic of a shabbier past.
Some of that might not be New England’s fault, though the stadium issue there looms large. Like so many of their MLS original contemporaries, the Revolution can't shake the second-class citizen status that clings to them from the league’s first years.
The success of Atlanta built on the success of Orlando, which built on the success of Portland and Seattle. Go back far enough, before the dawn of MLS 2.0 and the Age of Beckham and you’ll find plenty of MLS clubs whose status within their markets was set in carbonite, never to thaw. New stadiums help, but there’s just something unshakable about being a club that began life in the 90’s. New is always better, and new doesn’t come with baggage.
7-0. It’s a score line New England fans will want to quickly forget. That's not just because it’s an indication of the underachieving nature of their team. It's because it painfully serves as proof that whatever it is that Atlanta has, New England most certainly does not.
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