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MLS Star Uses Goal to Speak Out Against Gun Violence

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The 48 hours of the weekend were as tough a weekend as any in recent American history. Two mass shooting, with a total toll of more than 30 lives, occurred within 13 hours of one another in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

Americans faced a slew of emotions as they woke up each morning to tragic news in very different corners of our nation, none more so than the folks so directly impacted in both communities. Sadness, anger, and despair were just the tip of the iceberg for a nation that continues to see the stories of the weekend all too frequently.

Everyone mourns in their own way, and in the world of sport, most baseball stadiums, soccer stadiums, and basketball gyms took a moment of silence.

In Philadelphia, one man broke silence. Using the platform afforded to him by his talent, the Philadelphia Union captain and attackman Alejandro Bedoya swiftly scored with his right foot, off the left post and in from the front of the box, in the third minute of their match against DC United.   

It was only Bedoya’s third goal of the season, and his eighth in his MLS career, but what happened afterwards will forever make it his most memorable.

Bedoya, a former member of the US Men’s National Team, celebrated by sprinting to the sideline, celebrating with family, then his teammates. Fairly standard when your family is in the front row.

But then, Bedoya broke from his teammates and methodically jogged over to a sideline microphone. As the commentators quieted down, Bedoya loudly, over the crowd noise, charged “Congress, do something, NOW! End gun violence, LET’S GO!”

Bedoya spiked the microphone, and sprinted back to the field. Philadelphia went on to win 5-1, further aided by Marco Fabian’s two goals, fueled by the energy displayed by their captain in the earliest stages of the match.

Needless to say, the moment was the most asked about thing after the match. Bedoya’s clip has gone viral, and the 32-year-old was composed and firm on his stance. “I’m a human being before anything, so I’ll never just stick to sports, and I never have…. fine me if they want. I’ve got to take a stand.”

Soccer has become an American sport of activism this summer. Megan Rapinoe led the US Women’s National Team to gold both on and off the field in the World Cup this summer, and was constantly questioned about her firm stance against the White House.

Further, the team has been a pillar in the fight for women’s rights in the work place, most notably with their ongoing law suit against US Soccer for gender discrimination in their pay.

Alejandro Bedoya, an American born to former Colombian Adriano Bedoya and raised in South Florida. South Florida saw its own version of this American tragedy just under 18 months ago, when Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was the victim of a mass shooting that saw 17 students and faculty members die.

While Bedoya said he is prepared for any fine the MLS offers him, this morning Major League Soccer has said they will not issue any punishments. The League’s official statement was “The Major League Soccer family joins everyone in grieving for the loss of lives in Texas and Ohio, and we understand that our players and staff have strong and passionate views on this issue.”

The MLS heard Bedoya and understood. The next looming question is, who else did?

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MLS

Atlanta Celebrates A Title

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Despite cold, drizzly weather, thousands of fans turned out Monday for a downtown parade and rally to celebrate the city’s first championship since 1995.

The revelry won’t last long.

Atlanta United must find a coach to replace Tata Martino and likely cope with the loss of star midfielder Miguel Almiron before returning to the field in February for their first appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Bob Andres / Atlanta Journal and Constitution via AP

“That puzzle exists every year in professional sports,” team owner Arthur Blank told reporters after the rally outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “The great organizations, the great teams find a way to respond to that. What we’ve built here is a sustainable, winning organization, so we’re looking forward to being back — not just competing, but being back on this stage a year from now.”

In just its second season since entering Major League Soccer as an expansion team, Atlanta United won the championship with a 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers on Saturday night.

 

Less than 48 hours later, the city toasted its first championship team since the Atlanta Braves won the 1995 World Series .

“We did it! We broke the curse!” said rapper Archie Eversole, whose song “We Ready” became a popular theme at home games.

The players rode a double-decker bus on the 1-mile-long parade route, holding up the cup for the cheering crowd as they passed the Georgia Aquarium, College Football Hall of Fame and Centennial Olympic Park. Blank, team president Darren Eales and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms revved up fans in convertibles at the front of the procession.

The parade ended in a grassy lot alongside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where some 15,000 turned out for a lunchtime rally also attended by outgoing Gov. Nathan Deal.

“We’ve won a championship in only our second season,” Eales said. “That’s pretty incredible.”

In probably his last appearance with the team, Martino hammered in the golden spike while the crowd roared. The Argentine coach is reportedly headed to Mexico to become that country’s national team coach.

 

“Coach Martino is one of the great coaches in the world,” Blank said. “He saw the vision, he bought into the vision, and he executed the vision with this incredible group of players.”

 

That group will be changing.

Atlanta already made several moves, announcing the day after the game that it declined contract options on five players including captain Michael Parkhurst, though the 34-year-old defender is expected to return in 2019. The team said it has already begun negotiations on a new contract with Parkhurst, who finally won the MLS Cup after playing on four runner-up teams.

The biggest moves are still to come. Almiron, who was runner-up in the MVP voting to teammate Josef Martinez, is expected to follow through on his desired move to Europe, which should bring United a hefty transfer fee.

The team seems to have already lined up a replacement.

Argentine star Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, who scored the clinching goal in River Plate’s victory Sunday in the Copa Libertadores final, announced on the field right after the game that he’s leaving the team. He told media in his native country that he’s headed to Atlanta United.

Martinez, who scored a record 31 goals during the regular season and added four more in the playoffs , appears likely to remain with the team for at least one more season. He’s had much more success in MLS than his previous stint in Italy’s Serie A.

“I am going to be here as long as they want me,” Martinez said after winning the MVP award. “I feel like I’m at home.”

Atlanta United could target another South American coach as Martino’s replacement, with an eye toward maintaining a pipeline to promising young players from that continent. As Almiron has shown, the MLS can provide a useful steppingstone to those wishing to further their careers in Europe.

Among those mentioned as candidates: Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who previously won the MLS Cup as a player in Columbus and coached Boca Juniors to the Copa Libertadores final this season; along with Marcelo Bielsa, who has close ties to Martino and is currently managing Leeds in England’s second division.

Atlanta United will have an additional priority in 2019 after qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League, the continent’s top club competition. They will face Herediano in the two-legged opening round, with the first game to be played in Costa Rica in a Feb. 19-21 window before the second leg at Mercedes-Benz Stadium a week later.

That 16-team competition, which runs through the first of May, figures to be the team’s top priority in the early part of the 2019 season. The only U.S. team to win the title was D.C. United two decades ago.

But Atlanta is intent on defending its MLS championship, as well.

“It’s an honor to represent this city,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan, saluting the fans who broke numerous attendance records during the club’s first two seasons. “We’ll be back next year to defend this cup.”

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MLS

Josef Martinez is scoring like a Legend in the MLS.

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Listed at 5-foot-7 but surely a bit of an exaggeration, Josef Martinez easily gets lost in the crowd.

Especially when he’s in front of the goal, scuffling for position among taller players.

Then it happens.

A deft move with the left foot. A blistering shot off the right foot. A towering header that winds up in the back of the net.

“He’s ruthless,” marveled Darren Eales, president of Atlanta United.

With nearly two months left in the regular season, Martinez has already become the most prolific scorer in the history of Major League Soccer. He notched his 28th goal last week in a victory at Orlando , surpassing the previous mark set by Roy Lassiter in 1996 — MLS’ debut season — and matched by Chris Wondolowski (2012) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (2014).

The 25-year-old Venezuelan has quickly established himself as an icon in a growing league, the face of its most dynamic franchise.

Yet he seems none too impressed by his accomplishments, the sweat dripping from his blond-highlighted pompadour after training on a blistering morning in the Atlanta suburbs.

“12:30,” he said through a translator, breaking into a big grin. “I’m hungry. That’s the only number I’m thinking about.”

Probably the most remarkable thing about Martinez’s record is the variety.

Seven goals with his right foot. Six with his left foot. Nine with his head. Six more off penalty kicks.

“Inside the area,” he said, “you can’t be forgiving.”

He reminds some of a young Wayne Rooney, the English star now in the twilight of his career at D.C. United.

In an interesting twist, they’ll be on opposite sides Sunday when one United plays another in Washington.

“Fearlessness, the way they play the game, just going hard all the time, just throwing their body around and doing whatever it takes to score goals,” said Atlanta United defender Michael Parkhurst. “That’s what has made them both very successful.”

No. 28 was a thing of beauty.

As Julian Gressel dribbled toward the top of the area, Martinez lingered off the left wing, getting lost just a bit while three Orlando defenders turned their attention toward Atlanta’s Miguel Almiron sprinting across the middle.

Gressel delivered a pass to Martinez, who quickly flicked the ball ahead and gave a shoulder-dipping deke that sent Orlando’s Jonathan Spector flying past him and put keeper Joe Bendik on his backside. Martinez turned the ball back inside off his left foot and calmly flicked it over Bendik with his right.

Martinez got his first big break in 2014, when he was acquired by Torino in Italy’s Serie A.

But he floundered as a winger, scoring only seven goals in 58 league games.

When Atlanta United was awarded an expansion franchise by MLS for the 2017 season, Martinez was one of the players who immediately caught their eye. He fit in with the franchise’s philosophy to build around young players with potential rather than aging, high-priced veterans. Coach Tata Martino, who once guided the Argentine national team, was familiar with Martinez’s talents from his appearances with Venezuela. Eales got on board after talking with Joe Hart, the English national team goalie who also played for Torino.

“Joe thought he would be a good goal scorer, and he gave him a great character reference,” Eales recalled. “But what really stood out, what I remember the most, was Joe saying how good his aerial ability was, the leaping and jumping ability he had for a guy his size.”

Indeed, some of Martinez’s most memorable efforts have come when he leaps high above the pitch, seemingly defying gravity as he punches the ball off his head with devastating force .

In his more natural position as a striker playing mostly down low, Martinez likely would’ve set a scoring record in Atlanta United’s inaugural season if not for missing more than two months because of a quadriceps injury suffered while playing for Venezuela. As it was, he finished with 19 goals in 20 MLS games.

Improving his game away from the ball, Martinez has been even more prolific his second year with the Five Stripes, eclipsing the scoring record in just 26 games. Even though everyone on the field knows who they’ve got to stop, he’s managed to score in all but seven matches — including the last nine in a row.

“That consistency is almost more incredible than the number of goals,” Eales said.

Martinez’s success has paralleled the entire franchise. Atlanta United made the playoffs in their first season and are vying for the Supporters’ Shield in Year 2. The team already has set numerous attendance records and is averaging more than 50,000 per game in 2018.

While Martinez is sure to draw some interest from European leagues, he has said repeatedly that he’s happy in Atlanta and can envision a long, successful career in MLS. Almiron seems the most likely candidate to depart during the next transfer window, but United’s success on the field and at the box office makes it likely they’ll be able to keep the bulk of the team together.

“We don’t have to do a sale to balance our books,” Eales said. “Josef is enjoying it here, and we love having him on our team.”

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