After a rough morning of World Cup drama and goals galore, it was rivalry time in MLS. Atlanta United hosted Orland City in one of the few marquee matches where they open the upper portion of the stadium to accommodate 70,000 (and 71,932 showed up). That made tonight’s match the highest attended in the world today (even more than the current World Cup matches).
The recent injury to Darlington Nagbe saw a slight change in the starting XI. Julian Gressel went back to Nagbe’s position in central defense and manager Tata Martino went attack-minded starting Miguel Almirón, Ezequiel Barco, and Tito Villalba to support Josef Martinez up top.
Atlanta United wasted no time attacking their rivals and scored their first goal in the 3′. Julian Gressel served a low cross to Josef Martinez who slid to connect with the ball and slide it past the keeper.
Atlanta had been defending well, making the first half easy for Brad Guzan in front of the net. Leandro Gónzalez-Pirez commanded the backline while other players like Mikey Ambrose stepped up with goal-line clearances.
In the 55′, Josef Martinez was in a 3 v 1 streaking down the pitch and sent a perfect 20-yard through ball to Miguel Almirón and beat the keeper. Just a minute later on another counterattack, Ezequiel Barco found himself in Miguel’s position (just a minute prior) and sent a curler past the keeper to make the lead 3-0.
Things were pretty dominant for the Five Stripes in the second half and they still weren’t firing on all cylinders. In the 78′, Miguel Almirón out-muscled Jonathan Spector on a 50-50 ball and slotted home another goal (through the keeper’s legs no less).
Tonight’s thumping was just what Atlanta needed to reconfirm what everyone already knew; that they are a force to be reckoned with. Even though United converted four of their chances to earn four goals, they missed even more. While the scoreline says 4-0 it very well could’ve been 7-0 and if it wasn’t for early heroics by Brad Guzan it could’ve been 7-2. The good thing is that the chances keep coming for United’s attack and tonight they capitalized on them. This also shows a completely attack-minded lineup will deliver.
This rejuvenated starting XI was relentless on the ball for 90 minutes. I see continuous quality out of LGP and Mikey Ambrose showed that he deserves to start. He was much better tracking back tonight, better on defending, and made a clutch goal-line clearance early on to prevent a goal. My Man of the Match is Miguel Almirón. I was wavering back and forth between him and Josef Martinez but after he out-muscled a defender for that second goal that sealed it for me.
Atlanta United notched a statement win tonight. In front of a record 71,932 fans, they dominated their rival, scored four impressive goals, defended well, and Brad Guzan notched an impressive clean sheet. They’ll enjoy this win and prepare for FC Dallas on Independence Day in Texas. This is just the statement win they needed before they travel.
*Photo: Courtesy of ATLUTD