It was cold, rainy, and also COLD (if I didn't emphasize that enough already) in downtown Atlanta last night. Just from that short description, you could guess it was a pretty horrible night, but it could've been 30 degrees below freezing during a monsoon and it still would've been the greatest night of my entire lifetime. I got to experience the first championship won by my hometown of Atlanta in my lifetime.
For years now, the Atlanta sports teams have had a tendency to choke the biggest games of the season. The Super Bowl, National Championship, SEC Championship, World Series, the list goes on and on of the games Atlanta teams have lost in. I've watched most of those games and they were just gut-wrenching losses, most of them bringing tears to my eyes. A certain feeling of doubt of whether any Atlanta team could break the "Atlanta Sports Curse"crept into my mind leading up to Saturday's game with Atlanta United going up against Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup (The League Championship).
I wasn't even planning on going to the game. The least I would've done was go to Atlanta, go watch the game at a bar and join in the celebration if United pulled out the win. Then the morning of the game, I saw that ticket prices dropped, and since I had just gotten my paycheck, I figured "why not" and decided to splurge on tickets for a historic event. I was definitely paying for the experience if anything.
I made the drive to Mercedes Benz Stadium after I got off work and joined the crowd of Atlanta United fans in the line for the gate. I arrived before the gates were open, and that may have been the worst decision of my entire life as I stood in the cold wet rain for more than half an hour. It was the only unenjoyable part of this whole experience. Once I got inside the stadium and warmed up with some food and drink, excitement took over my body as kickoff fast approached.
I had bought standing room only tickets and all the standing room spaces were taken up with 30 minutes before kickoff. It was crazy packed inside the stadium as I searched for where I was about to stand for the game. After searching for what seemed like an eternity, I finally found a perfect spot to stand behind the supporters section. I did not move from this spot again in fear of losing my spot.
The pre-game festivities were incredible. They brought out huge cutouts of the MLS Cup trophy, along with a red carpet for the players to walk out on, and the actual trophy was placed in between the teams as they walked out onto the field. There was a lot of smoke and fireworks as the teams were introduced, followed by the seven-year-old kid actress Malea Emma killing her performance of the National Anthem (if you haven't seen it, go search it on YouTube, it's incredible). The crowd was now fired up and it was reaching a deafening pitch inside The Benz. Then nerves began to come back into my mind and surely many fans as the game kicked off.
The stadium was still loud and intense throughout the early parts of the game, with the supporters section singing their classic songs and screaming "ATLANTA" while the rest of the stadium followed with "UNITED". The crowd was on edge as chance-after-chance for United seemed to either be stopped by the Portland keeper or end up going wide of the goal. Finally, in the 39th minute, league MVP and goal-scoring phenomenon Josef Martinez put Atlanta up 1-0, and the crowd went absolutely bezerk. Streams of beer from many fans cups began to fly high into the air along with confetti and streamers as anticipation in many fans minds turned into pure excitement. It was quite honestly unexplainable how crazy this crowd got, especially for the next few minutes after the goal. An incredible save from United keeper Brad Guzan kept United's lead and the excitement in the crowd as the halftime whistle blew.
In my mind, I was ecstatic that United held the lead at the half, but the last few championships my teams have been a part of, I had seen them take a lead only to lose it in the second half. I kept thinking the same thing was going to happen in this game. As the second half began, I think many fans shared the same feeling I had as the crowd lost a bit of explosiveness that was seen in the first half. It didn't help that Portland began to move the ball well and found a couple of shots in the early stages of the half, but all attempts were saved by Guzan.
Atlanta United waited for their opportunity to score again, and it came in the 54th minute as United converted a free kick into a goal from Franco Escobar. If the first goal made the crowd go absolutely nuts, the second goal was that times a million. The crowd went insane after Escobar found the back of the net. You would've thought you were at a plane hangar with the noise that was in that building following that goal. The train whistle that typically follows a United goal continued to blare through The Benz as Portland kick the ball off again, and all doubt I had before was now gone, we were winning this game.
The next 35 minutes felt like an eternity as we waited for the final whistle but had some really cool moments. The PA announcer told the crowd that we had set the attendance record with 71,019 in attendance, followed by a huge roar from the crowd. A few minutes later, we all pulled out our phones and sang "We Ready" with our flashlights on (another thing that you must see if you haven't). The intensity in the fans had not gone away since the second goal and honestly didn't stop until the fans exited the stadium.
Then the moment came, the final whistle blew and I displayed every emotion possible. I was jumping up and down one minute, and the next I was leaning over the spot I was standing at, crying like a baby. It was so overwhelming and exciting at the same time, it was all fantastic. Many people wonder why people cry over sporting events as I did. I really hadn't known why this was the case until this moment. For once, I didn't care about what was going on in a seemingly messed up world, or what finals were going to kill my GPA this week. This championship made all the hardships of life feel a lot less terrible and brought joy to my life in a time when things always seem to go wrong, whether it be in school or in my personal/professional life. That made it overwhelming and why it brought the tears to my eyes to finally witness this indescribable sense of achievement.
I ended up killing my bank account with the tickets, food, and championship memorabilia I bought, which was pretty much all the items they were selling, but at the end of the day, it was all so worth it. If I had to replay this day and do it all over again, I would stand in that cold wet rain, become broke, and lose all of my voice for what I experienced last night. It was truly unforgettable and will live in my mind until the day I die. Now we need the Dawgs to do the same thing and I will truly feel pure bliss. That day is coming and I can't wait to go through the while excitement again.