A match with high expectations between the two top teams in the Eastern Conference lived up to the hype as Atlanta United and NYCFC battled for 90 minutes for a hard-fought 2-2 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday.
Tata Martino kept his unbeaten 3-5-2 formation going for the fifth-straight match, with Leandro González Pirez and Greg Garza returning to the lineup from red card suspension and injury, respectively. Meanwhile, Tito Villalba missed out, meaning Kevin Kratz joined the midfield, with Miguel Almirón pushing high up the field. And there was major news on the bench, with offseason signing Ezequiel Barco making the matchday squad for the first time this year. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Chris McCann (LCB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Greg Garza (LWB), Jeff Larentowicz (CDM), Julian Gressel (RWB), Kevin Kratz (CM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Josef Martinez (ST).
It was a tight opening half hour, with the two heavyweights of the Eastern Conference showing their quality with haymaker after haymaker. But it was Atlanta United who broke through the defense first, just before the half-hour mark. Miguel Almirón and Josef Martinez spearheaded a patented electric Atlanta United counterattack, and the Paraguayan maestro pulled the ball onto his magical left foot just outside the penalty box for a shot from distance. NYCFC’s Sean Johnson got a hand to it, but could only push it as far as Greg Garza, who showed great reaction to get to the rebound first to slam home the opening goal from short range.
Eight minutes later, NYCFC brought it back on level terms, with forward Jo Inge Berget brought down in the box by Michael Parkhurst just seven minutes later. David Villa converted from the spot for the equalizer to make it 1-1. It seemed like Darlington Nagbe re-took the lead three minutes later with a stunning curler from the edge of the box, but it was ruled out for offside after video review and the half ended even.
Ten minutes into the second half, Atlanta took the lead from an unlikely source. With the defense high up the field for a free kick, Parkhurst headed the clearance into the path of Miguel Almirón, who dribbled to the byline and lofted a beautiful cross to the center of the box for defender Chris McCann to head home his first goal for Atlanta United.
NYCFC fought back again with a goal out of the blue that no defense could have stopped, with Alex Ring slamming a shot off the crossbar and in to make it 2-2 in the 73rd minute. It was an onslaught from there on, with Atlanta United piling on the pressure in the NYCFC box for the final 15 minutes of the game. But despite coming inches away from a late winner, Atlanta United couldn’t re-take the lead and the game ended in a well-earned draw.
In all, it was an adrenaline-pumping back-and-forth between two of the best teams in MLS in front of more than 45,000 of the Atlanta United faithful. The Five Stripes sit just four points off the top of the Supporters’ Shield race with a game in hand, and will try to keep that run of form going next week on the road against Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy. Make sure you’re there to welcome them home the following week as Atlanta hosts the Montreal Impact at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on April 28th by securing your tickets here.