Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco #8 celebrates after scoring the first goal of the match against D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday September 18, 2021. (Photo by Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)

Atlanta United made a statement with a solid 3-2 win over D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Goals came from Josef Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, and George Bello. Martinez’s goal was his 99th of his Major League Soccer career and the club ended the week with a nine-point boost to its eastern conference standing.

Atlanta United has completely turned things around. Just before the break for the Gold Cup, they were out of playoff contention, playing poorly, and rumors of coaching clashes and player departures were a norm that fans and press had become used to. Now, the players are happy, they have a new coach in Gonzalo Pineda who allows them to attack freely, the team is consistently scoring goals, and not only are they in prime playoff position, their fourth place standing sets them up for a playoff home match.

Josef Martinez has tallied nine goals for the season after tonight’s win. Ezequiel Barco has six assists, has been involved in 11 of Atlanta United’s past 17 goals, notched his sixth assist, and has scored from a free kick in two consecutive matches. The tap-in goal from George Bello was his first of the year.

On the other end, the 25 fouls committed by D.C. United are the most fouls ever won in a single match in Atlanta’s history as a club. George Bello limited Julian Gressel to once chance created. Without Miles Robinson, Ola Kamara was limited to 32 touches and one shot (not on goal). Not bad for an outing without their main center back Miles Robinson.

Head coach Gonzalo Pineda called this “a perfect week” after scoring 10 goals and grabbing nine points from three matches. After another multi-goal display, Barco scored from another free kick. “We practiced that”, Pineda said as he laughed after the match. “I don’t think we’re seeing the best Barco yet.”

Along with Barco’s massive improvement, I’d be remiss to acknowledge the team’s chemistry improving with each match. Also, Luiz Araújo couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s clear that he was the missing piece that five stripes had been missing. With more time, I believe Luiz and Josef are going to be a dangerous connection that’s going to reap massive benefits in the coming months.

Atlanta United will get well-deserved rest as they prepare for next week’s clash with Philadelphia Union on Saturday, Sept. 25 at 3:30 PM ET. Also, the five stripes will host their officially registered supporters’ groups on Tuesday, Sept. 21, at their practice facility.

-Jon J.

Photo: Courtesy of ATL UTD

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