ATLANTA — In a match where Houston went down to 10-man after an early red card, Atlanta United won 5-0 in front of 42,557 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Wednesday night.
With the win, United is now sitting in second place of the Eastern Conference with 33 points and is behind the Philadelphia Union by just three points and with a game on hand. The Five Stripes have now reached seven wins at home, having lost just once and tied three times.
The match got off to a quick start as at the sixth minute of the first half, Alberth Elis received a straight red card after bumping referee Chris Penso. Elis had received a yellow card just seconds earlier after fouling Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, but his emotions got the better of him and thus led him to hit the showers a lot earlier than he might have wanted.
“I think you can say that the red card helps but you also have to remember the Red Bulls game when we didn’t play at that moment like this (tonight). But also, we started really well against 11 in the first minute, a chance by Josef and they had a chance as well, we were really into it from the start and already had a good feeling about that,” Atlanta United manager Frank De Boer said. “Also, when they went down to 10, we were concentrated, every time we could get pressure on them, we did. I gave them a compliment on how they played and their concentration. Even after the third and fourth goal, they continued to do what we asked them to do, and they created more chances after that.”
By playing against 10 men, Atlanta started to look more at wingers Julian Gressel and Dion Pereira while searching for the first goal of the night. And it was at the 27th minute when Darlington Nagbe broke the deadlock by scoring off a play that he started by recovering a turnover in the midfield and ultimately putting the ball in the back of the net after receiving a cross from Gressel. The goal by Nagbe was his first in an Atlanta United kit and his first since August of 2017 when he still played for Portland.
Two minutes after the first score, Brandon Vazquez scored for United via a header after a cross by Dion Pereira. Vazquez, who scored his second MLS goal of the season, gave United a 2-0 lead after just 29 minutes.
Just before the end of the first half, Martinez seemed to have scored the third goal of the night, but his header was just off to the left by inches, which meant that both teams headed to the locker room at halftime with United leading 2-0.
In the second half, Josef Martinez would score twice, at the 60th and 80th minute respectively, to give Atlanta a 4-0 lead. Josef has now scored 15 goals this season and is four goals behind MLS leading scorer LAFC’s Carlos Vela.
Two minutes before the end of the match, Gressel scored the fifth and final goal of the night after the Dynamo failed to clear a dangerous ball outside of the box and Gressel took a right-footed shot and placed it to the bottom left corner of the goal.
The Five Stripes will be back in action Sunday afternoon when the team hosts Wayne Rooney and D.C. United at 4 p.m. D.C. is currently in third place with 32 points, but they will play FC Cincinnati Thursday night before taking on Atlanta.
Man of the match:
Despite Josef Martinez scoring two goals tonight, I have to give my man of the match award to Darlington Nagbe. The midfielder scored for the first time in an Atlanta United kit and started the momentum to what ended being a rout for the home team. Tonight, Nagbe was all over the field, defending, making runs, creating turnovers, looking for the open man and he deserved to score tonight. Nagbe touched the ball 66 times, just behind Gonzalez Pirez, had a passing accuracy of 96.4 percent, had one shot on goal and one goal.