Yamil Asad’s goal provides emotional high point in Atlanta United’s opener

AP

ATLANTA — Ten seconds prior to history, there was a mistake.

A failed clearance at the top of the New York Red Bulls’ box led to Carlos Carmona’s one-touch outlet to Tyrone Mears, the official starting point of this moment in MLS history. As Mears, a 34-year-old outside back from Manchester, England, took two touches into space — one of his favorite spaces — the Red Bulls prepared for the imminent cross. “That’s the area I like to hit,” Mears said after the game.

That’s when the second mistake, and the finish line to Atlanta United’s historic first goal, occurred. When Mears picked his head up to find a target, New York forward Alex Muyl, standing just outside the box, pointed out Atlanta United’s Greg Garza rushing in from his own back line. What Muyl missed, however, was Yamil Asad, the 22-year-old Argentinian forward rushing into the space behind Garza’s run.

That’s where Mears’ cross found Asad’s left foot sliding in, ricocheting into the net off New York goalkeeper Luis Robles’ leg.

“I knew that the cross was going to come to me. I was just lucky to finish it,” Asad said through a translator. “It was a joy to score. I am very excited to be part of the history of the club.”

Asad popped up out of his slide in another atmosphere.

As teammates and designated players Josef Martinez and Miguel Almirón closed in on two sides, a sellout crowd at Bobby Dodd Stadium erupted, a wall of sound set to the visual of waving flags, scarves and 55,000 jumping bodies. The stadium’s speakers, blasting Blur’s “Song 2”, became background noise. Asad ran down the end line, looked past Almirón to the rest of his teammates and gestured before breaking into his second slide in five seconds — only this time he purposely collapsed face down. Almirón, Martinez and Garza reached him first.

On the Atlanta United sideline, the coaching staff swarmed head man Gerardo “Tata” Martino.

“It was louder and crazier than we thought it would be,” captain Michael Parkhurst said.

That atmosphere faded as Atlanta United conceded the tying goal and then the game-winner in the second half. Atlanta Sports™ supplanted euphoria. Growing pains are to be expected from such a young (and talented) team still learning to play together — amidst the whirlwind of an inaugural season at two different stadiums coupled with rotating training grounds as their state-of-the-art complex in Marietta is completed, no less — and such extreme highs and lows could become the early-season norm.

By contrast, the defending conference champ’s 2-1 comeback win, spoiling the upstart’s moment, took place in relative silence, an all-too-familiar stillness inside these city limits.

Asad finished his evening with his second milestone, driving in Atlanta United’s golden spike signifying his place as Man of the Match, giving a thumbs up to supporters before heading to the locker room. It all felt anticlimactic: the remaining 66-plus minutes of gameplay, halftime entertainment, New York’s goals, the golden spike, the fans spilling back out into the midtown Atlanta streets. Then again, everything was destined to seem anticlimactic in the aftermath of Asad’s sliding goal.

Well, almost everything.

“If Miguel (Almirón) would’ve been able to chip the goalie for a second goal,” Garza said of Atlanta United’s best second-half chance, a two-on-none breakaway that came up empty, “it would’ve brought the house down.”

At least Asad made sure an entire city knows exactly what that sounds like.

AP