Alex Morgan named US Player of the Year
Friday, December 7
CHICAGO (AP) — Alex Morgan has been named U.S. Soccer’s Player of the Year for a second time after leading the national team with 18 goals in 19 games and helping it earn a spot in the World Cup next year in France.
Defender Tierna Davidson, who started in her first nine national team appearances, was named Young Player of the Year, U.S. Soccer announced Friday. The 19-year-old’s college season at Stanford was cut short when she broke her ankle in September.
Morgan scored seven of her goals during the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament this fall to earn the Golden Boot. The U.S. won the tournament and earned a spot in the World Cup. Morgan also has three assists and has logged 1,500 minutes this year, most of any player on the team.
Morgan also earned Player of the Year honors in 2012, when she had 28 goals and helped the national team win an Olympic title.
The U.S. women’s team, ranked No. 1 in the world, went undefeated in 2018 with 19 wins and two ties. That extended the team’s overall unbeaten streak to 28 games, dating to a 1-0 loss to Australia in the 2017 Tournament of Nations.
The draw for the World Cup is set for Saturday in Paris. The United States is the defending champion, having won in Canada in 2015.
Morgan currently sits at 98 career international goals.
“To be named captain with Megan (Rapinoe) and Carli (Lloyd), I felt I was challenged to succeed in a really positive way and was comfortable growing into this larger role with the team,” Morgan said in a statement. “I’m also pleased that I was able to improve and evolve in my play along the way. There’s a good energy to the team right now and we’re all really looking forward to getting started next year.”
The other nominees for women’s player of the year included Julie Ertz, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan and Rapinoe.
The voting panel includes the national team coaches, players who have made at least one appearance with the team this year, members of the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors, members of the media and other select panelists.
United captures MLS Cup for Atlanta’s 1st title since ‘95
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
Sunday, December 9
ATLANTA (AP) — 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 Saturday night.
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.
“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.
“Most of us aren’t from here, so we don’t know the pain that they’ve been through,” said United captain Michael Parkhurst, who finally broke his own drought after playing on four runner-up teams. “I’m just happy that we could come through for them tonight. I know there were a lot of anxious and stressed-out fans.”
After a surprising run in the playoffs, the Timbers were denied their second MLS championship after winning the cup in 2015. They prevailed on the road at Dallas, Seattle and Kansas City before coming up short in Atlanta.
“I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve had the entire season,” coach Giovanni Savaarese said. “To be able to get to the MLS Cup, we played a lot of difficult teams.”
Since major league sports came to Atlanta in 1966, the only other team to win a championship in one of the five major sports also came on the soccer pitch. The Atlanta Chiefs claimed the title in the North American Soccer League’s inaugural season in 1968.
While that team laid the groundwork, Atlanta United carried the sport to unprecedented levels in North America. The team shattered the MLS attendance record a year ago in its first season, and then took the mark even higher by averaging more than 53,000 per game this year — a level of support that would fit right in with the Premier League or La Liga. The crowd of 73,019 on Saturday easily eclipsed the previous record for an MLS Cup — 61,316 at New England’s Gillette Stadium in 2002.
Almost as soon as the final whistle blew, a victory parade through the streets of Atlanta was announced for Monday.
Queen’s “We Are The Champions” blared throughout Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“The first goal is always going to be massive one way or the other,” Guzan said. “The second one really broke their backs.”
United kept the ball in Portland’s end of the field much of the first half. It seemed only a matter of time before Atlanta broke through.
Appropriately enough, it was Martinez.
Portland tried to clear the ball, but a sliding tackle by Parkhurst sent the ball rocketing back toward the Timbers net. Martinez managed to win possession from Jeremy Ebobisse at the top of the area, leaving the most prolific goal scorer in league history all alone against goalkeeper Jeff Attinella.
It was no contest. Martinez, the league’s MVP and Golden Boot winner after scoring 31 goals during the regular season, cut to his right to escape the sprawling keeper, easily sliding the ball into an open net to send the packed house into an uproar.
“I was feeling a lot of pressure before the game,” said Martinez, who added four more goals in the playoffs. “My neighbors were putting flags all around my house and pushing notes under my door.”
The Timbers finally created a scoring chance in the 42nd minute.
Looking to atone for his mistake, Ebobisse slipped in behind the defense and was all alone in front for a cross. His header was right on the mark, but Guzan dove to his right to punch it away with both hands.
It was Portland’s only shot of the opening half.
The Timbers created far more opportunities over the final 45 minutes, but couldn’t get it past Guzan.
Escobar was the one who finished off the Timbers . MVP finalist Miguel Almiron sent a free kick into the box, where Martinez managed to get a head on it. His attempt was heading wide of the net, but Escobar slipped free at the far post to deliver a sliding goal.
The defender’s second score of the playoffs doubled his goal output for the entire regular season.
“It’s not every day you get to win a title,” Guzan said, speaking for an entire city. “To be a part of this is truly special.”
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
‘El Tata’ thanks fans for support ahead of Atlanta farewell
By CHARLES ODUM
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, December 6
ATLANTA (AP) — Tata Martino’s love affair with Atlanta’s soccer fans didn’t have to last long to have meaning.
On Thursday, Atlanta United’s coach expressed his appreciation for the fans’ record-breaking support as his team prepared for Saturday’s MLS Cup final against the Portland Timbers.
“First I just want to say thank you to Atlanta for letting me participate from the very beginning in the birth of this new club,” Martino said through a translator.
Martino’s leadership played a lead role in Atlanta’s meteoric rise as a MLS power. Led by MLS MVP Josef Martinez , Atlanta United is trying to win the MLS title in only its second season as an expansion franchise.
Along the way, Atlanta has set MLS attendance records for a single game and season. Another record is expected Saturday when a crowd of more than 70,000 is expected to pack Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Atlanta United set a single-game attendance record of 72,243 against Seattle on July 15.
Martino was voted MLS coach of the year after announcing this would be his final season. Saturday will be his farewell to Atlanta fans, leaving behind a legacy that will be difficult for his successor to match. The former Barcelona and Argentina national coach reportedly is headed to Mexico’s national team.
Veteran midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said Martino has been the foundation of the new franchise.
“He’s the leader, he’s the pillar in the middle,” Larentowicz said Thursday.
“His message from Day 1 has been the same. When he speaks, we listen. That’s really it. Without getting too technical, he’s the boss. What he says goes, and we’ve all bought in.”
Larentowicz said Martino won instant respect, even as a newcomer to the MLS, through his “knowledge of the game.”
“His management and style is at times uncompromising but I think it’s always best for the team,” Larentowicz said. “His ability to sit down after having never coached in the MLS and to break down a team you’ve played against a million times, and he tells you something you’ve never seen before.”
Atlanta fans honored Martino with a towering, statue-like tribute that showed the coach in his trademark pose, his arms crossed and a sweater tied over his shoulders. “El Tata” was written on the base.
“My first reaction was to smile because I thought it was very nice and affectionate,” Martino said Thursday, smiling.
“I’m always someone to highlight respect. Aside from the amount of affection I’ve been shown from the fans, the amount of affection they have shown me and continue to show, that they always will show me, that feeling is mutual. Aside from that affection, I value respect a lot and it has always been a mutual respect ever since I came to Atlanta between myself and the fan base.”
Players say Martino has not made this Cup final about him. There is ample incentive without challenging players to win one for the coach.
“For us, the most important thing is we are very excited to play this game in front of our home fans and with all the emotion and hype going into this match,” Martino said. “We view it as our reward for this season but also these two years of hard work we’ve put in.”
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