An early own-goal, a red card a few minutes later and an enthusiastic crowd propelled Atlanta United to a 4-0 victory over Chicago on Saturday afternoon at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Unlike in the first home game, a 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls, Atlanta United was able to hold onto its early lead and secure its second consecutive victory heading into the international break.
“For the stretch in the second half I thought we played really well,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said. “We didn’t put the score at risk. We were able to manage the game better than they we have in the past. We had a good performance.”
The team will next play at Seattle, the reigning MLS Cup holders, on March 31, as the first in a stretch of four consecutive road games. The team won’t play at home until hosting D.C. United on April 30. Atlanta United’s players said before Saturday’s game how important it was to secure all three points before the crucial road stretch, which includes games at Toronto, Montreal and Real Salt Lake.
Josef Martinez added goals in the 60th and 84th minute, and Hector Villalba added another in the 68th minute to seal the victory. It was Martinez’s fourth and fifth goals in the past two games and Villalba’s first this season.
Atlanta United has scored 11 goals in its first three games, while allowing three.
Here are five observations about Saturday’s game:
The starting 11. Martino used the same lineup that started the inaugural game.
Alec Kann started in goal, with Tyrone Mears at right fullback, Leandro Pirez and Michael Parkhurst as the centerhalves, and Greg Garza at left fullback. Carlos Carmona started as the holding midfielder, with Julian Gressel, Yamil Asad, Miguel Almiron and Villabla playing as the midfielders spread four across. Martinez, named the MLS player of the week after scoring three goals in last week’s 6-1 win against Minnesota United, started at striker.
The only change was the re-insertion of Carmona in place of Jeff Larentowicz. Carmona received a red card against the Red Bulls, so he was suspended for Sunday’s game.
The weather and tactics. After playing in snow and temperatures that started at 19 degrees, which negated most tactics, in Sunday’s 6-1 win over Minnesota United, Atlanta United received sunshine Saturday.
A beautiful day in Atlanta made for beautiful tactics by Atlanta United. The Five Stripes were able to consistently move the ball from side to side or up and down the pitch throughout the game, providing consistent examples of the type of soccer preferred by Martino. The team had 83 percent of the possessions in the first half, which was inflated because of a red card given to Chicago’s Johan Kappelhof in the 12th minute that reduced the Fire to 10 players.
“I mean it definitely had an effect on the game, but you know even given that, we started the game great,” Parkhurst said. “Perfectly. We wanted to make sure we came out with the right intensity and attitude. And we did that. We went up a goal early. The red card was due to our pressure and getting the ball in behind them.”
The crowd. Atlanta United and the Georgia Tech Athletic Association spent time during the past two weeks trying to improve the experience of the 45,000 attending the game, with the addition of more food and beverage vendors, more ushers at the gates, more beer pourers, etc. Asked on Twitter how the experience was compared with two weeks ago, some fans said it took just five minutes to get into the stadium and purchase a beer after it took 45 minutes just to get into the stadium for the first game. Some fans reported on social media that lines were still more than 10 minutes long to purchase beer at halftime.
Following a suggestion from the supporter’s groups, Atlanta United also encouraged the used of the chant “Hey Ya!” during goal kicks, instead of a homophobic chant used by a small group of supporters in the first home game. The supporters got several opportunities to chant “Hey Ya!” a song by Atlanta-based rap duo Outkast.
The goals. Atlanta United grabbed a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute when Chicago’s Brandon Vincent turned the ball into his own net. He was trying to clear a cross by Gressel.
Atlanta United had just had a minutes-long string of possession broken up when the ball came to Gressel on the right side. He moved into space and hammered a cross across the mouth of the goal.
Atlanta United added a second when Almiron split the defense with a pass that Martinez ran onto. After rounding the goalkeeper, Martinez poked the ball into the goal in the 60th minute. Asad assisted on Martinez’s second goal with a pass similar to the one by Almiron.
Villalba’s goal came off a deflected cross from Garza.
The midfield battle. The key to the game was believed to be the battle between Atlanta United’s Almiron, Gressel and Carmona against Chicago’s Dax McCarty and Juninho.
Because of the red card, the matchup never materialized. Atlanta United’s midfielders bossed the play throughout the game and around the midfield, leaving McCarty and Juninho more as spectators and defensive plugs than offensive pieces.