Atlanta United striker Luiz Araújo always tries to work with a smile and give his happiness to football.
On Wednesday night, football gave Araùjo some happiness back.
Atlanta’s newest signing scored his first goal for the club in Atlanta United’s 4-0 win over Cincinnati FC. It was Araújo’s first MLS goal in his fifth match.
“I’m very happy to score my first goal with this shirt,” Araùjo said.
It didn’t take long into the match to reach the moment. In the fifth minute, Araújo channeled all of his determination to get on the score sheet and outran four Cincinnati defenders in a breakaway race. The result was a left-footed shot that went into the back of the net.
Araújo’s momentum from the run carried him over the barrier on the west end of the stadium to celebrate. His teammates quickly ran over to embrace him. The striker had been close the past few matches, including a shot that clanged off the post against Orlando on Friday, but tonight he finally got his moment.
Two of the four goals on Wednesday came from the club’s all-time leading scorer Josef Martínez, who made his 100th regular season appearance tonight. Martínez made history by scoring the most goals (85) in his first 100 MLS games. In those 100 matches, he started 93.
“It means a lot,” Martinez said. “Six months ago, I didn’t think I’d play again.”
In the 40th minute, Cincinnati forward Brenner Souza da Silva earned a yellow card for a hard foul on midfielder Marcelino Moreno. Araújo took the free kick and served it far post to defender Alan Franco, who directed it one-touch across the six-yard box. The ball found the head of Martínez, who then put it away. Atlanta went up 2-0.
Martínez scored his next goal in the 55th minute. Midfielder Ezequiel Barco found Martínez on a fast break, and Martínez slipped a ball through a pair of Cincinnati defenders to give Atlanta a three-goal lead.
“I’m very happy for the heart he puts on the field,” Pineda said.
Barco sealed the victory for Atlanta off a free kick in the 86th minute.
Barco, whose goal against Orlando earned him MLS Goal of the Week, came close to adding more in the 17th minute and again in the 45th with a shot on goal that banged off the post. Later, Barco nearly found Erick Torres on the back post in the 89th minute for what would’ve been Torres’s first goal of the season.
“He’s been progressing, he’s been evolving, he’s more mature now,” Pineda said of Barco.
Franco became the first Atlanta United player ever to record three assists in the same game. He assisted Araújo’s goal, Martínez’s first goal and had a second-assist on Martínez’s second goal.
“Having three assists in a game is something very important to the team,” Pineda said.
Franco led a starting defense that included Miles Robinson, George Campbell, Brooks Lennon and Jake Mulraney. Robinson returned to the starting 11 after playing three full matches for the U.S. men’s national team. Campbell, who scored his first career goal on Friday against Orlando, got his second straight start.
Atlanta’s defense made 14 clearances and limited Cincinnati to three shots on goal.
“Today and the last two games, defensively we’ve played so good,” Martínez said. “So, we have to continue those moments because we are so close to a shot at something special.”
Even though his club scored four goals and recorded nine shots on goal, Pineda gave credit to Cincinnati’s defense. He said their back five, at times, caused problems for Atlanta.
“They did a good job at closing down a couple of movements that we created over the week,” Pineda said.
It was a big win for Atlanta United, who came into the night treating this like a playoff game. The club has had consecutive wins by multiple goals for the first time this season. It’s won six of their last seven matches and scored seven goals in the past two games.
With three more points, Atlanta crossed the playoff line in the Eastern Conference table and stayed in the thick of the playoff race. It faces another playoff contender on Saturday when D.C. United visits Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We’re trying to give these joys back to the fan base,” Martínez said. “And now we’re fighting for these playoff spots and I think we deserve it.”
But on Wednesday, the moment belonged to the team’s happiness and the player who started it all in the fifth minute. When Barco hopped on his back. And the coaches all hugged each other on the sideline. When Martinez came flying down the pitch, hurdled over the barrier, and shouted with excitement for his teammate. When he found his good friend Matheus Rossetto and the two Brazilians joined Martínez to pose like they were cutting picanha steak.
“I love playing football with all my life,” Araújo said. “There’s no reason for me not to bring happiness to every day.”