Atlanta United defeated Chicago Fire FC 3-1 on Saturday night in its 2021 home opener at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Ezequiel Barco’s wonder-goal gave Atlanta an early lead and Emerson Hyndman’s late goal sealed the win as Atlanta picked up its first win in league play.

Atlanta opened the scoring in the 23rd minute on a long-range strike from Barco. After drawing a foul, Barco hit the ensuing free kick into the Chicago wall, however the rebound fell to him outside the box and the Argentine midfielder blasted a right-footed shot that curled off the crossbar and into the top left corner of the goal.

Atlanta had a chance to score later in the half when Marcelino Moreno’s shot was deflected off the post, falling to Hyndman who hit the ball into the side net. Seconds later, Brad Guzan made a pair of big saves in the 38th minute, stopping the initial shot from Chinoso Offor and a second attempt off the rebound from close range.

However, Chicago was able to equalize less than a minute into the second half as Luka Stojanovic finished off a cross that eluded a few Atlanta defenders. Boris Sekulic found space along the right wing and one-touched a pass back across goal that just snuck by Atlanta’s center backs and found Stojanovic near the back post.

But Atlanta piled on the pressure as the second half carried on and finally pulled ahead in the 66th minute on an own goal from Johan Kappelhof. Moreno originally crossed into the box, forcing Chicago’s goalkeeper Bobby Shuttlesworth to rush out, but he could only parry away, which immediately hit Kappelhof and redirected into the back of the net.

Hyndman doubled the lead and sealed the game in the 85th minute. Jürgen Damm did well to get around a defender and get to the end line before feeding Jake Mulraney near the edge of the six-yard box. Mulraney then danced around two defenders and nearly finished off a wonder-goal of his own; however, Shuttlesworth saved it. The rebound fell to Hyndman who hammered the ball into the back of the net.

After tonight’s performance, you can see the difference between this year’s squad and last year’s. A huge credit to gaffer Gabriel Heinze, who’s completely turned this team around. “Probably last year at this time, we would have crumbled,” said Jake Mulraney about the team responding to Chicago’s quick goal. But this year, at this time, it’s just different.”

Atlanta (1-0-1, 4 points) will take on Philadelphia Union in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals First Leg at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Tuesday, April 27 (8 p.m. ET, FS1/TUDN). It’s next MLS match is against New England Revolution Saturday, May 1 (8:00 p.m. ET, CW69,, Star 94.1).

-Jon J.

Photo: Courtesy of ATLUTD

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