Atlanta United was just a win/draw away from tying their franchise record of eight straight games earning points. Their test for the evening would be in the heart of the Midwest against the Chicago Fire.
The first half was full of action for the Five Stripes. Josef Martinez had three shot attempts, one of which was a bicycle kick. Leandro Gónzalez-Pirez made a pair of clutch tackles while tracking back after pushing up in attack. Franco Escobar started in place of Chris McCann (hamstring) and made both a goal-line and touch-line clearances, showing veteran composure during crucial moments.
In the 52′ United struck gold when the club’s record signing nabbed his first goal. Miguel Almirón snuck in a beautiful lead ball past three defenders to Ezequiel Barco in all types of open space. Barco lined up 1-v-1 with the keeper and slotted it home. Just four minutes later, Darlington Nagbe hooked up with Greg Garza for the give-and-go with Nagbe staying just onside to make it 2-v-1 alongside Josef Martinez. With a simple tap, Nagbe laid the ball off to Martinez to nab his seventh goal of the season.
In the 60′, the Fire caught Brad Guzan off his mark which originated from a bad clearance from Greg Garza. Kevin Ellis fired a howler from the top of the box in the top corner. The reason why this was exceptionally worrisome for Atlanta? Chicago is used to coming back from three to four goals down (while Atlanta has been known to blow leads, especially when away).
Anyone who follows Atlanta United knows that striker Josef Martinez is addicted to scoring goals. That’s a good thing. The bad part is his attitude when he either: A) doesn’t get enough touches or B) gets substituted. So when he was pulled to make way for Kevin Kratz halfway through the second half, he did his usual long walk off the pitch and then pitched a fit at his seat. I do see where he’s coming from because soon after that Barco was taken off for Tito Villalba. So with only a one-goal lead, Atlanta was without a true striker the rest of the match (and a 2-1 lead is not a scenario where you can get comfortable).
A scary moment in the 88′ when Franco Escobar went down immediately after a collision with Brad Guzan. He was eventually subbed off for Miles Robinson. The blow could be deafening as it initially looked to be a concussion, an injury he suffered at the start of the season that kept him from action for weeks.
The match ended 2-1 in favor of the King Peach who will bring this momentum back with them for Wednesday’s match against Sporting Kansas City. My Man of the Match is Miguel Almirón, who was all over the pitch, breaking defenses, creating chances, clearing balls from his defensive third, and seemingly never showing fatigue.
With the win, the Five Stripes sit atop the MLS East, two points above NYCFC with a match in-hand.
*Photos courtesy of ATL UTD