In their third match in seven days, Atlanta United returned home from their west coast stint to host Real Salt Lake. It was a special night for Atlanta United fans: they were able to enjoy the Home Depot backyard for the first time and the club opened the stadium’s upper deck.
The five stripes came out in a 4-3-3 tonight, with 16-year-old George Bello and Julian Gressel holding down the wings. The usual striker was Josef Martinez, and his two support men going forward were Tito Villalba and Miguel Almirón
Almirón had a chance early in the first half but RSL keeper Nick Rimando parried the ball out of bounds.
Tito’s first try beat the keeper but hit the far crossbar and fate bounced the ball back to the keeper. Just a few minutes later, Villalba received a low cross across the face of goal and miskicked with his right just a yard away from the open netting.
Julian Gressel nailed a half-volley from the perimeter of the box in the 37′ for the first goal of the match. In the second half, Tito Villalba sent a howler past the keeper that hit the side post, bounced off the keeper, and rolled into the back of the net.
Atlanta’s movement was so fluid and effortless in the second half, it was almost scary. Scary because they weren’t playing at full-strength and they had a lot of missed chances. The five stripes are peaking at the right time as the playoffs are right around the corner. It was a solid 2-0 win which came with a crucial three points. Even more impressive, this was after their 4-3 comeback thriller from Wednesday. Playing with this kind of firepower with Andrew Carleton, Romario Williams, and Ezequiel Barco on the bench, Tata should be able to continue this mix to end the regular season and end on a high note.
It was total domination for Atlanta United tonight and the name on everyone’s lips was that of George Bello. “He’s good,” said Jeff Larentowicz. “He seems like he’s been ready to start for a while.”
“I think I did pretty good for my first MLS start,” said an ecstatic George Bello. “But there are a few things I can change.”
A player so young and in that loud, raucous environment surely had to be nervous. “Yes I was nervous (he laughs) but once I got my first touch on the ball it was time to do what I do,” said a confident Bello.
I, like many others, thought Tata would be concerned about Bello getting more experience on the pitch, more minutes. But to that, he simply replied, “He got lots of minutes tonight.”
My man of the match goes to Julian Gressel. Good vision, good creation, and a goal is why I chose him tonight.
The red, black, and gold will relax a bit after so many games in such a small turnaround, then prepare for NY Red Bulls next Sunday. They currently sit atop the MLS Eastern Conference with 63 points.
Photo: Courtesy of ATLUTD