Two electric attacking moments and heroic defending on the road came together for another valuable three points for Atlanta United Saturday, as the Five Stripes went top of the Supporters’ Shield standings with a 2-1 road win over the Chicago Fire.
Head Coach Tata Martino kept the 3-5-2 formation that has been working so well over Atlanta United’s unbeaten streak, with Franco Escobar the only addition, returning to the starting lineup in place of Chris McCann who missed out with tightness in his hamstring. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Leandro González Pirez (LCB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Franco Escobar (RCB), Greg Garza (LWB), Jeff Larentowicz (CDM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Julian Gressel (RWB), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Ezequiel Barco (ST), Josef Martinez (ST).
Josef Martinez almost opened the scoring just five minutes into the match. Darlington Nagbe found Julian Gressel in space on the right wing and the German’s cross was pinpoint to the feet of the Venezuelan stiker, but the goalkeeper was up to the challenge to stop the close-range shot. But Atlanta United would have to defend well to hold off the Chicago Fire for the remainder of the first half, with the home team building pressure trying to defend their home turf.
But the Atlanta United were up to every challenge, keeping the Fire at arms’ length for a scoreless opening half. The Five Stripes made their lead count and came out firing in the second half, jumping ahead in an unforgettable moment for offseason addition Ezequiel Barco. Eight minutes into the half, Miguel Almirón burst into a pocket of space in front of the Chicago back line and threaded a beautiful through ball past several Fire defenders into the path of the onrushing Ezequiel Barco. The Argentine was lethal from close range, lifting a shot over the Chicago goalkeeper, off the underside of the bar and in for his first MLS goal.
If the first goal was down to individual brilliance, it was unstoppableteamwork that took the lead to 2. Just four minutes after the opener, Darlington Nagbe and Greg Garza combined for a perfectly-timed one-two pass to get behind the Fire defense, and Nagbe laid it off to an unmarked Josef Martinez to tap home the sweeping team move.
The home team hit back in the 61st minute, setting up a tense final stretch. Kevin Kratz, Tito Villalba and Miles Robinson all stepped off the bench to bring on fresh legs, and Atlanta United was able to absorb the pressure and keep the Fire out to hold on to a crucial 2-1 road win.
The victory took the team’s unbeaten streak to eight and brought the Five Stripes to the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings to end the weekend. They’ll look to defend that lead against one of their primary contenders at the top this week as they host Sporting KC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday. Tickets to that match are still available, so make sure you’ve reserved yours here.