United cap­tures MLS Cup for At­lanta’s 1st ti­tle since ‘95

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL SPORTS - By Paul New­berry AP Sports Writer

AT­LANTA — The play­ers bounced up and down on a hastily erected stage in the mid­dle of the field, con­fetti fall­ing all around as they hoisted the cham­pi­onship tro­phy.

It’s a fa­mil­iar scene at the end of any sea­son.

Only this time, a team from At­lanta was do­ing the honors .

The ti­tle drought in over in the A-T-L.

Josef Mar­tinez and Franco Es­co­bar scored goals, Brad Guzan came up with a cou­ple of clutch saves and At­lanta United gave the city its first cham­pi­onship since 1995 with a 2-0 vic­tory over the Port­land Tim­bers in the MLS Cup fi­nal on Dec. 8.

Cheered on by the largest crowd in fran­chise his­tory, United cap­tured the crown in just its sec­ond sea­son to set off a huge cel­e­bra­tion in a city that has known so much sport­ing heart­break. Owner Arthur Blank lifted a tro­phy and got soaked with cham­pagne — less than two years af­ter his other team, the NFL’s At­lanta Fal­cons, squan­dered a 25-point lead in an epic Su­per Bowl col­lapse.

“My first night in my new house in At­lanta, I went to bed at half­time of the Su­per Bowl,” de­fender Jeff Lar­en­tow­icz said. “I woke up and I read the head­lines and I couldn’t be­lieve what I saw.”

Now, United had writ­ten a new head­line. Champs . “Hope­fully, we can tran­scend that past,” Lar­en­tow­icz said, “and move on to a new fu­ture for the city.”

Mar­tinez, cap­ping the great­est goal-scor­ing sea­son in MLS his­tory, put United ahead in 39th minute. Es­co­bar added an in­sur­ance goal in the 54th, turn­ing the fi­nal min­utes into a rau­cous, flag-wav­ing cel­e­bra­tion and send­ing coach Tata Martino out with a ti­tle in his fi­nal game as coach. He’s re­port­edly headed to Mex­ico to take over as that coun­try’s na­tional coach.

“If I had to choose the way to leave some­where, this is the best way,” Martino said. “This is the way I wanted it to hap­pen.”

At­lanta rev­eled in its first ti­tle since the Braves won the 1995 World Se­ries — a gap of 8,442 days, for those count­ing.

/ AP-Todd Kirk­land

At­lanta United mid­fielder Miguel Alm­iron (10) cel­e­brates with his team­mates as they take the stage for the tro­phy pre­sen­ta­tion af­ter the MLS Cup cham­pi­onship.

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