Juanjo Purata leads Atlanta United past Toronto FC 4-2

Atlanta United defeated Toronto FC 4-2 Saturday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. A crowd of 42,760 saw Atlanta United score four goals in the second half, highlighted by a Juanjo Purata hat trick and a spectacular goal from Thiago Almada to give Atlanta United a crucial win in its pursuit of a playoff spot. With six goals on the season, Purata is now the highest-scoring defender in club history and the fourth player to record a hat trick.

Atlanta commanded the game from the opening kick and produced several threatening chances early. In the 11th minute, Brooks Lennon earned a penalty as he drew Shane O’Neill into a foul when he faked a run towards the end line and then cut the ball back. Luiz Araújo took the spot kick, but his shot was saved by Quentin Westberg’s diving save to the bottom right corner. The home side continued to stretch Toronto’s backline on both wings but couldn’t find the breakthrough in the first half.

Atlanta wasted no time after the break by jumping out to an early lead in the 47th minute. After Almada had a shot parried out for a corner, Lennon delivered the ensuing set piece to the center of the box where Purata headed in his fourth goal of the season. It was Lennon’s sixth assist of the season, which ties his single-season high from last season.

Toronto found an equalizer in the 52nd minute. Ayo Akinola was played into the box and was nearly one-on-one with Raul Gudiño, but Purata caught up to block the initial shot. However, the ball fell kindly for Akinola who tapped the ball into an open net.

Atlanta again grabbed the lead from another corner kick in the 62nd minute. Lennon placed the ball at the near post where Gutman flicked it to the back post. Amar Sejdić headed the ball in front of goal where Purata nodded it in for his fifth of the season. It was Gutman’s first assist of the year and Sejdić’s second.

Toronto, however, leveled the match five minutes later. Purata was ruled to have fouled Jesus Jimenez inside the box. Federico Bernardeschi scored the penalty with a shot to the right side of goal while Gudiño guessed to the left.

Almada emphatically restored Atlanta’s lead with a stunning strike from outside of the box in the 74th minute. Toronto attempted to play out of the back and Gutman stepped up to tackle the ball away from Bernardeschi. Edwin Mosquera won an aerial duel over Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and the ball fell for Almada. The Argentine cleverly avoided a challenge from a trailing Michael Bradley while simultaneously making Doneil Henry lose his footing before curling a shot into the top right corner from the edge of the 18-yard box. It was Almada’s fifth goal of the season and Mosquera’s second assist.

Purata iced the game by completing his hat trick in the 88th minute. Almada delivered a corner kick to the near post where Alan Franco flicked it to the back post for Purata, who headed in his sixth goal of the year. It was Almada’s team-leading 11th assist of the season and Franco’s third.

[Gonzalo Pineda post-match being asked if the team plan on keeping Purata around after the season]: “Well, I think I know the answer but I don’t want to misquote or misrepresent what is reality. So I will leave that for Carlos (Bocanegra) to answer because he is the one that knows all the details on that but obviously, based on the performance and not just because of the goals but the defense, I don’t know. With the good performances that Juanjo has had, I think we are very happy if he comes back next year.”

Atlanta (9-12-9, 36 points) travels to Exploria Stadium to take on Orlando City on Wednesday, Sept. 14 (6:00 p.m., Bally Sports Southeast, Sports Radio 92-9 The Game, La Mejor).

-Jon Jones

Photo: Courtesy of ATL UTD

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