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Atlanta United’s MLS Cup crowd breaks league, club attendance record

Dec 8, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United defender Franco Escobar (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring against the Portland Timbers during the second half in the 2018 MLS Cup championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)
Dec 8, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United defender Franco Escobar (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring against the Portland Timbers during the second half in the 2018 MLS Cup championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

ATLANTA — The atmosphere inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium made the 2018 MLS Cup feel like a bigger event than ever before. 

And it was.

The announced attendance of 73,019, which broke the club’s record and the league’s overall mark, took the MLS championship match into another stratosphere that will be tough to match.

While the majority of the supporters in attendance donned the black and red stripes of Atlanta United, there was a vocal presence of Timbers fans decked out in green and gold in the upper levels of the stadium. 

The Timbers fans entered just under three hours before kickoff and set up camp in the 300 level immediately, making their presence known as one of the best traveling supporters groups in MLS. 

Down in Atlanta’s supporters section, Five Stripes owner Arthur Blank was given the honor of driving the golden spike during the buildup to kickoff.

The spike itself was featured on the Atlanta tifo as well, rising up from the ground with MLS 3.0 written across it. 

Referee decisions become focus 

When the game began, referee Alan Kelly quickly became a focus of players and fans, presiding over a first half with a few questionable calls, including a penalty shout from Josef Martinez after he went down in the box in the 16th minute. 

Kelly got that call correct, and he and his crew delivered the right decision on Atlanta’s first goal as well.

While most watching at home and in the stadium thought Martinez was offside on his 39th-minute strike, Kelly let the play go on and it turned out Martinez was kept onside by a defender on the left flank and from an apparent touch by Liam Ridgewell as the ball slid in the direction of the Venezuelan. 

A second call by Kelly in the 53rd minute allowed the Five Stripes to strike for their second goal, as Mabiala went in from behind with a high boot on Martinez. 

After Kelly whistled for a free kick, the home side took advantage of the opportunity. Miguel Almiron picked out the head of Martinez, who flicked the ball over to a sliding Franco Escobar. 

Parkhurst captures elusive MLS Cup 

One of the most well-respected players in MLS earned his first championship in five attempts.

Atlanta captain Michael Parkhurst, who lost three MLS Cups with the New England Revolution from 2005-2007 and lost to the Timbers while with the Columbus Crew in 2015, got to hoist the trophy on stage. 

Parkhurst began his professional career in 2005 with the Revs, went overseas to play with Nordsjaelland and then Augsburg before returning to MLS in 2014 with the Crew. 

7-year-old delivers tremendous national anthem

The game was kicked off by seven-year-old Malea Emma, who turned heads with her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Emma previously sang the anthem at a September 23 LA Galaxy game against the Seattle Sounders, which put her on the national radar and landed her the gig to perform in front of the record crowd in Atlanta. 

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