After a dominant 2017 and 2018 season, Atlanta United find themselves facing North America’s best clubs after qualifying for the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League.
The 2018 Major League Soccer season is, unfortunately, coming to its prolonged end and the Five Stripes of Atlanta find themselves competing with the New York Red Bulls for a Supporters’ Shield for the club’s first ever trophy.
While the possibility of claiming the Shield would help show the dominance of Atlanta United, the Five Stripes have already checked off a box for the 2018 season by clinching a spot in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League after defeating the Chicago Fire 2-1 in Atlanta.
Atlanta United joins three other MLS sides who have already punched their ticket for the continental competitions, the Houston Dynamo, Toronto FC, and Sporting KC. The club who takes home the 2018 MLS Cup will also earn a spot. All will be trying to make a run to become the first MLS team to win the CCL.
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The Five Stripes were able to secure a spot in 2019 due to the fact that Toronto FC occupied two spots for MLS qualification when the Reds took home the 2017 MLS Cup but also lifted the 2018 Canadian Championship. Because one club would take up two spots, the club with the most points acquired over the 2017 and 2018 seasons would be awarded the second slot. With Atlanta United already earning 124 points over both seasons, they find themselves in the middle of North America’s best clubs.
Taking home the 2019 CCL championship would be considered one of the largest — if not the largest — achievements an MLS side could earn. Because a team from Major League Soccer has yet to win the tournament, all eyes will be on the Five Stripes and the other four sides to see if this year the curse will be lifted.
Although Atlanta has shown that they are one of the best teams to ever play in MLS, they approach an offseason full of changes and many questions will arise as to how the Five Stripes will compete against the best of the best. The 2018 offseason looms large; the loss of manager Tata Martino and expected loss of Miguel Almiron are already giving supporters headaches as they look ahead for continued dominance in 2019, both in MLS and CCL.
However, with club president Darren Eales and the large wallet of Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank behind the operation, fans of the Five Stripes have no reason to worry for the upcoming season.
Replacements for Martino and Almiron are already in the works and Atlanta’s standard of excellence is not going to be compromised. As Riverplate midfielder Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez is rumored to join the Five Stripes in January, fans can have confidence that Atlanta’s exciting style of play will continue to sell out stadiums and dominate MLS, potentially even bring home a CONCACAF Championship.
Not only has Atlanta seemingly secured another exciting South American to take up the midfield, but Darren Eales and the front office are after another manager that will be able to lead the team towards trophies as Martino has done in his two years with the club. Rumors of the Five Stripes being linked to current manager of Boca Juniors, Barros Schelotto, ensure supporters that the ongoing wave of young South American talent will not be halted with Martino’s departure.
2018 has been a season for the record books for Atlanta United and they have more than earned their spot to compete for the elusive CONCACAF Champions League crown. Although some of Atlanta’s biggest pieces may be exiting, fans can breathe easy and continue to support what may become the greatest achievement by an MLS franchise.