Atlanta United defended their home once again with some ATL flair to take a massive step towards the playoffs Sunday, securing a hard-fought 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact.
With left back Greg Garza still sidelined with injury, head coach Tata Martino went with the same lineup that clinically dispatched of the Galaxy earlier in the week. The full lineup that faced Montreal: Brad Guzan (GK), Chris McCann (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Anton Walkes (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Carlos Carmona (CM), Yamil Asad (LW), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Tito Villalba (RW), Josef Martinez (ST).
Despite a period of intense pressure on the visiting goal, the first break was a tough one for Atlanta United. After a deep run into the Montreal defense, Miguel Almirón was forced off the field through injury in the 17th minute. But like he’s done all season, Tito Villalba stepped up in a big way to fill in when the team needed him. Just before the half-hour mark, Villalba dribbled through a Montreal defender just outside the box, gaining a crucial yard of space. He’s been lethal from distance all season, and he was again here, hitting an unstoppable missile into the top corner past the Montreal goalkeeper.
Montreal were just one spot outside the playoff hunt coming into the match, and their pressure was strong through the beginning stretch of the second half as they fought for their playoff lives. Atlanta created chances after chance but couldn’t quite extend their lead until the 73rd minute when an unlikely source stepped in. After a quick series of passes off a short corner routing, Julian Gressel swung in a cross from deep in the right corner. Jeff Larentowicz was quickest, putting his body on the ball to ricochet it into the net for the crucial security goal and his first in the red, black and gold shirt.
The goal also brought Julian Gressel’s assist total on the season to 8 – the second most ever for a rookie in MLS history – another historic moment for the Five Stripes Nation. 43,502 were in attendance for this one, a 14th consecutive sellout, as Atlanta United coasted through the final ten minutes to secure the win. The result pulled the red, black and gold into third place in the Eastern Conference with games in hand, and crucially brought them within three points of mathematically securing a playoff bid, an honor they could clinch as early as Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Union. Tickets are still available for that, so make sure you’ve reserved your spot here.