ATL United Five Stars Match Their Name 5-0
This afternoon’s first ever MLS matchup between Atlanta United and Los Angeles Football Club saw two teams near the top of their conference showcase two different styles of play. The Red and Black came out on top with an exciting 5-0 victory. While the scoreboard seemed to indicate that the game was a breeze for the men in 5-stripes, the opposite was much more the case for the majority of the game. Julian Gressel would be named Man of the Match with his goal and assist tallies on the evening, Miguel Almiron scored 2 goals off penalty kicks late in the game, Josef Martinez notched his league-leading 5th goal of the season, and Romario Williams scored the first ever MLS goal of his young career!
There were quite a few twists and turns that helped decide the game. However, none was bigger than what happened in the first minute of the game. 45 seconds in Chris McCann, playing in the left center-back position for the suspended Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, made a dangerous sliding tackle on long-time US National team player Benny Feilhaber. The referee showed McCann a straight red card to the dismay of everyone in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. However, with the MLS play-review rule, the referee went to the replay screen and ultimately, after a long delay, motioned McCann back onto the field and issued him a yellow card instead. This rarely happens, and for AU, it was a game changer!
In the 17th minute Atlanta United would score first, instigated by an uncommon player in Michael Parkhurst. Parkhurst won a 50/50 ball stepping up out of his center-back position into the midfield. He maneuvered his way to the top of the 18 and played a perfectly weighted ball into the space of Miguel Almiron down the left flank. Almiron used his natural left foot and found a wide-open Julian Gressel on the back post, who finished into an open net. LA’s goalkeeper, Tyler Miller, had come out of his goalmouth to confront a sliding Martinez. However, when Josef couldn’t reach the ball, it continued into the back-post area untouched. The Atlanta United supporters went crazy, and it seemed as if the game would be an easy one for the 5-Stripes.
That would not be the case, however, as LAFC would dominate the possession battle with a 60%/40% advantage throughout the first half. The contrasting styles of LA’s possession and the counter-attacking Atlanta United would prove to be exciting at times for Atlanta United fans, while other times during the first half was a bit of a drag. LA kept the ball in the midfield but failed to have any shots on goal during the first half, while Atlanta United would try and attack very quickly, but failed to generate many more chances before the halftime whistle.
The second half would start out a lot like the first, with LAFC high pressing Atlanta United. Much of the first 20 minutes of the second half saw LA dominate possession and do a really good job of pinning the 5-Stripers inside their own defensive third. A substitution in the 60th minute seemed to help change the momentum for United. Coach Tata Martino brought Kevin Kratz on for Tito Villalba. This moved Almiron into a striker role and let Kratz use his constant motion and pressure in the midfield.
In the 67th minute, the Red and Black would find the cushion they would desire as Martinez finished a brilliant cross from Gressel for a 2-0 lead. Kratz proved to be a big part of the goal as he cleared a ball out of the defensive third into the path of Gressel down the right flank. Gressel used his speed and power to get to the end line and played a lofted ball over the outstretched arms of the LA goalkeeper and into the path of Josef, who scored his league-leading 5th goal of the season with one of his patented headers.
With the game winding down, and the new line-up, the 5-stripers would continue their push for scoring chances. In the 87th minute, the referee would again go to the video replay to get a closer look at a possible foul inside the box. He ruled that Almiron was taken down and awarded a penalty kick to Atlanta United. With Martinez, who is the normal penalty taker, being subbed out for Romario Williams, Almiron stepped up and calmly finished the gift to the lower left-hand corner beating the keeper.
Almiron was not done, however, as he would be called on to take another penalty kick 4 minutes later in the 91st minute. Joao Moutinho received his second yellow card in a matter of 2 minutes for an intentional handball in the box after a free kick. This action sent Moutinho to the locker room for the red card and gave Almiron a chance to score his second penalty kick. The Paraguan would calmly finish the shot into the same lower left-hand corner.
Romario Williams would finish off the scoring in the 97th minute with a nice left footed striker from the top of the 18 that beat the LA goalkeeper near post. Jeff Larentowicz would get credit for the assist as he sent a long ball down the right flank that found Williams alone with a LAFC defender. The goal was exciting for Williams as it was the first of his MLS career.
Much credit should be given to Brad Guzan and Company as the game proved to be the 2nd shutout in a row.
Atlanta United returns home to Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Sunday, April 15th, as they host NYCFC at 6:00. Come out and support your local MLS team in their quest for The Cup!
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