ATLANTA — Typically, Atlanta United FC players don’t have to worry about climate conditions when they’re at home, playing in the comfy confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
But before Atlanta’s 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union Saturday, the team was told the top was going to be down on the spaceship, rain or shine. Beginning May 29, the retractable roof on the stadium had to be locked in the open position so the automation process could be worked on.
It was just the second time in the team’s history playing inside the stadium with the roof open. The other time was on Oct. 22, 2017, a match that ended in a 2-2 tie with Toronto FC.
The Five Stripes got a better result than that on Saturday, coming away with the three points, but the sticky humidity and blazing Atlanta heat didn’t make it easy on the players.
“It was tough today. It was really hot. It was really humid. Usually, we don’t have to worry about that,” Atlanta captain Michael Parkhurst said. “It’s cool when you look up, but other than that, we sweat a lot more.”
That seemed to be the consensus among the majority of players: Yeah, the roof looks cool, but boy did it let a bunch of heat in.
“It was even hotter, but it looks really nice,” Josef Martínez said through a translator.
The high temperature in Atlanta on Saturday was 89 degrees and humidity reached about 80 percent. The climate won’t get any cooler as the summer drags on.
The heat didn’t seem to bother Martínez too much as he struck the back of the net three times, giving him the fifth hat trick of his Major League Soccer career.
Atlanta plays its next game away from home, but close by. The Five Stripes will face United Soccer League side Charleston Battery at Kennesaw State University’s Fifth Third Bank Stadium Wednesday in U.S. Open Cup play.
The Five Stripes won’t return to the Benz until June 24 for a matchup with the Portland Timbers. If all goes well, the roof should be closed by then, and the air conditioner should be cranking.
But the roof at the stadium has yet to function as designed. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is nearly a year old and issues with the roof delayed it’s opening last year. The folks at the stadium need to have the problem solved soon, because the National Football League says it wants the roof open for the Super Bowl in 2019. Once fully functional, the roof is expected to be able to open and close within 12 minutes.
Martínez was asked about his left wrist after Saturday’s game. The Venezuelan striker said “it’s fine” and the brace he’s been wearing is “just for extra protection.” Martínez injured his wrist during an April training session when his fingers jammed into Leandro González Pírez’s shoulder.
Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino said at training Tuesday that Chris McCann will not play in the team’s U.S. Open Cup match Wednesday. McCann, 30, has started nine games for the Five Stripes this season at several positions. He missed a string of four games due to a hamstring injury, and he was subbed off at halftime of Atlanta’s win over Philadelphia due to what Martino called “fatigue.”
Héctor “Tito” Villalba is still listed as questionable. He has missed the last two games due to a hyperextended knee. Villalba has battled with his fitness all season, starting just six of Atlanta’s 14 games.
Addition for Open Cup
The club announced Tuesday it signed forward Yosef Samuel to a short-term deal from it’s USL affiliate, ATL UTD 2. MLS clubs are allowed to sign a player from their USL affiliate to short-term deals of four days up to four times throughout a season. Atlanta has signed goalkeeper Paul Christensen this way three times so far this season.
Samuel, 20, is a native of Ethiopia, but moved to the metro Atlanta area in 2007. In 2014, he joined the Philadelphia Union academy and then spent time with the USL’s Bethlehem Steel FC. He signed with ATL UTD 2 in January and has tallied a goal and an assist in six games this season.