Atlanta United fans call their team the Kings of the South, and the Five Stripes retained that crown this weekend, getting back into the win column with a hard-fought 2-1 road win over Orlando City in rainy central Florida.
Tata Martino brought back the 3-5-2 formation that’s been so successful this season, with Julian Gressel entering the starting lineup in place of Tito Villalba. Alec Kann returned from injury in time to replace the suspended Brad Guzan, while Miles Robinson filled in for the injured Franco Escobar in the back line. The full starting lineup: Alec Kann (GK), Leandro González Pirez (LCB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Miles Robinson (RCB), Greg Garza (LWB), Jeff Larentowicz (CDM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Julian Gressel (RWB), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Ezequiel Barco (ST), Josef Martinez (ST).
Atlanta United jumped onto the front foot from the start, piling on the pressure from the beginning. It paid off just ten minutes into the match. Atlanta United’s intricate passing in the box forced a foul from the Orlando City defense, with the ref blowing the whistle after a hand to the face of Greg Garza. Josef Martinez stepped up to the spot and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way and dished his signature stoic stare into the Orlando City supporters’ stand.
Twenty minutes later, Atlanta United’s counterattack was just too much for the Orlando City defense to handle. Miguel Almirón found Ezequiel Barco in a pocket of space in the middle of the park. The Argentine sent Greg Garza free down the left flank, and Garza cut the ball back perfectly back into the path of Barco in the middle of the box, who swerved an unstoppable finish with the outside of his boot inside the top corner.
Orlando City has been known for comebacks this season, and they turned up the pressure in the second half to tighten the match. Rookie Chris Mueller’s shot was parried by Alec Kann, but only into the path of Justin Meram, who squared up and cleaned up the rebound to make it 2-1.
With Atlanta United’s second road game and third match in the past week, fatigue started to show in the second half and they were forced to defend more than normal. Tito Villalba, Romario Williams and Kevin Kratz came on to bring energy and fresh legs to the side and the squad bent but never broke, with Orlando trying time and time again without success to get back into the match. The Five Stripes return home with all three points in hand, keeping their unbeaten record against Orlando alive.
The win pushes Atlanta United back into the Supporters’ Shield lead as they head into matchday 12. They now come home to face the New York Red Bulls at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday May 20th at 7:00 p.m. Tickets to that match are still available, make sure you’ve secured yours here.