by Jarrett Smith
It’s a hot, muggy night in Atlanta. Like most game days during the season, it has rained at some point and you can cut the air with a dull knife. Bobby Dodd Stadium is packed to its capacity which is somehow more than it can actually handle and you are sweating as much as, if not more than, the players.
Then across the field you watch Josef Martinez jump to a worrying altitude and drive a header home to take the lead against a 10-man San Jose Earthquakes. You’re cheering. You’re celebrating. You haven’t stopped celebrating when Chris Wondolowski slams and equalizer literally moments later and stands in front of your sections and screams.
At this point you might only recognize the man for his miss against Belgium, and not as the best goal scorer that MLS has ever seen. What you don’t realize is that you’ve crossed the event horizon into what is actively the drunkest ‘rivalry’ in American soccer. Scratch that, it’s not a rivalry, it’s just chaos. A black hole of questionable ideas that answer the question: ‘What if Calvin and Hobbes directed a game?’
These two teams have played three times since Atlanta’s arrival, and I suppose you could believe that it is coincidence that all three games have been black-out drunk. We’ve already taken a surface-level view of Atlanta United’s drunk games, but let’s be honest, San Jose deserves their own recognition.
Let’s start in 2017, where the Five Stripes started their stretch of Fourth of July Insanity by playing San Jose on a muggy night at Bobby Dodd Stadium. San Jose got things started in the 2nd minute with a Tommy Thompson goal and started experimenting with short term insanity almost instantly. The insanity earned them a red card about 15 minutes after this was a yellow.
Good god, none of us were ready for this.
The Five Stripes found a goal with Carlos Carmona before taking the lead with a towering header from Josef Martinez.
Of course, as you learned when you started reading this, they proceeded to give up a goal to MLS legend Chris Wondolowski moments after that because these games are distilled with absurdity. Atlanta found the lead again late when Anton Walkes buried a header off a set piece, and none of you had that on your bingo card. Finally, Josef finished things off when San Jose decided that Brandon Vazquez required the majority of their attention because positional gravity controls you, not the other way around.
There were literal fireworks that night, but San Jose got one more round of fireworks in by getting a second red card in the waning minutes.
The final damage involved six goals, two red cards and seven yellow cards. In hindsight, this was a good warmup for what these two teams would give us all.
Like The Godfather Part 2 and Shrek 2 before it, the sequel to 2017 set a standard that has never been matched for this relationship.
2018 Atlanta United and San Jose completes me. I can watch it at any time of day in any mood and I will cackle like a half-mad jackal. Buckle up kids, this is as dumb as you remember.
Let’s start off with a reminder of Mikael Stahre. He was the coach in San Jose and, my god, what a mess that was. Nothing they did made sense and they were the opposite of enjoyable. I would know. I tied myself to this boat before the season and sat there and watched it take on water constantly.
Stahre was fired just before this game and Steve Ralston was named the interim. He oversaw the New Manager Bounce as the Quakes took a 2-0 lead against an Atlanta team that was attempting the greatest season in league history.
So 2-0. A perfect cross and header and a long ball against the run of play that was converted flawlessly. It’s drunk but not unheard of.
Atlanta pulled one back with a sequence that, for my money, will define my mental relationship with Tito Villalba. Semi-open net? Right at the last man standing in goal. One timer on a rolling ball? Perfectly placed like a FIFA cheat code.
So Atlanta takes this into the break down 2-1. That’s doable. Then we get what I believe is the moment Chris McCann’s magic ran out.
Atlanta doesn’t do what they did during the regular season without McCann stepping up huge but he seemed to hit a wall later in the season and here is where the wheel sorta comes off coming out of turn 3 at Pocono. Anyway, this makes it 3-1 and we might be done here. And wouldn’t you know it? San Jose scored again through Wondo to make it 4-1 and turn out the lights and pack up and- wait. What? VAR?
Yep that’s a chicken wing. So now we are back to 3-1 and a PK for Atlanta. But let’s take a minute here to address the situation because linear time was a tough concept that night.
This counter that comes off the chicken wing is triggered at around 65:53.
The goal is scored around 66:04.
The broadcast team and their inability to understand how VAR looks at things or works helped construct a really wrong narrative here because, again, linear time is tricky I guess. Either way Atlanta scores and we go from 4-1 to 3-2 and we have collectively moved off beers to harder drinks and the saying my grandad told me is ringing in my ear: wine before whiskey, mighty risky. Whiskey before wine, mighty fine.
Atlanta scored again soon as we enter Larry Miller’s fourth stage of drunkenness when Josef is fouled in the box. The ref points to the spot but doesn’t blow his whistle (?!) and Almiron stares at the ref in bewilderment before slotting away the tying goal.
I just don’t have a good explanation for this one. It’s the kind of drunk where you start to hallucinate.
You know how this ends, though. Barco frees Almiron who crosses to Josef in stoppage time for the winner. The Quakes were standing in Chernobyl the moment Almiron got that ball out wide and started running with Josef manto-man in the box. They were dead, they just did not know it yet. But Josef, in his infinite mercy, made it official and finished off what might be the most absurd game in recent league history until San Jose would play Vancouver in a late night MLS is Back game that would require way too much time to explain. Just go look it up. Please.
The final damage here is seven goals, one disallowed correctly, no reds somehow and a level of drunkenness that will stay with Atlanta fans forever. I choose to believe that all Atlanta fans can vividly remember where they were when this happened.
2019 is the final stop on our tour and after 2018, anything else would be tame. That said, there’s some absurdity here that can be found if you dig. It’s not as much obvious insanity but if you move the dirt around, you will find it. For example, there are three red cards in this game and two of them are for guys who were on the bench. That is something you expect in Copa Sudamericana.
This one starts pretty silly but nothing too wild. The Justin Meram revival tour continues with a deflected goal, then Brad Guzan deflects a ball in with his hamstring. That might sound like a wild start but if you have ingested any of this series, you have already built up a tolerance to stuff like this.
Let’s talk about Christian Espinoza for a minute. He tormented Atlanta early in the game including forcing this error but whatever sacrifice he made to chaos was not good enough and he got sent off moments later for stepping on Franco Escobar. I wrongly believed he got two yellows in the span of 5 seconds, as his first yellow came earlier in the match. But still, the man was a terror and he went from ‘forcing an own goal’ to ‘sent off’ in seven minutes.
Now let’s talk about Daniel Vega. Vega is in that class of keepers who can be wholly uninspiring and average in a way that makes you think replacing him is an afterthought. He is Mario or Luigi without a mushroom but occasionally he finds a star and look the hell out if that happens. I don’t have a super cut of his saves but go check out the highlights at the end of this article and look at how many impressive saves he made. He found the Mario star for about 60 minutes and damn near snatched a draw out of this loss.
Unfortunately for Mr. Vega, chaos demands more. So Emerson Hyndman scored after missing the sitter of all sitters in the first half before Pity Martinez scored in stoppage time to make it 3-1.
While we discussed linear time earlier, let’s break that rule and go back to just before Hyndman scored and remember how this game had three red cards and we have only talked about one of them? Yeah, Matias Almeyda was sent off from the bench. But that was not enough so Chris Wondolowski was sent off from the bench as well in stoppage time.
This game threatened to be normal-ish but alas, these teams can’t have that. Instead of a standard MLS game we had to watch a coach and hall of fame player get red carded while sitting on the bench as their defense finally faltered late in the game.
Tragically, we were robbed of a 2020 edition of this game but hope springs eternal and a 2021 edition would warm my heart. There will come a time that San Jose wins one of these matchups and I assume that will involve a game that is talked about for decades. I’m both terrified and excited. The same way anyone should be when Atlanta and San Jose meet.