It was Atlanta United’s goal to get back on track with a win this week, and the team did just that against the regional opponent clawing to become Atlanta’s petty rival and audaciously swipe the crown from the Kings of the South.
The 5-Stripes held off that team from the Carolinas and defended the crown for its second win of the season, beating Charlotte FC 2-1 in front of a home crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Atlanta’s first goal came in the 60th minute after Brooks Lennon drew a foul in the penalty area. Josef Martínez converted the free kick to score his first goal of 2022 and give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead.
Defender Adam Armour, who came on as a halftime sub for Christian Ortíz, answered six minutes later for Charlotte. Atlanta United was caught flat-footed on a corner kick and Armour scored off a header. It was the first goal in club history for Charlotte FC.
The match seemed headed toward a draw, then the exciting game-winner arrived when Jake Mulraney, a second half sub, beat his defender 1-v-1 and scored a left-footed strike in stoppage time. Marcelino Moreno was credited with the assist, his second of the season.
“We’re going to have a lot of moments like this in the season,” midfielder Ozzie Alonso said. “We’re going to be tied in a game in the last minute, we’re going to be losing the game. We have to keep the composure and show that we’re Atlanta United. We're together. We never step out and give up. We always think we’re going to win the game, and we did in the end.”
Atlanta had a chance to take the lead in the 81st minute. Matheus Rossetto orchestrated a fast break and kicked the ball out wide to Lennon at edge of the 18-yard box. Lennon’s cross found Martínez, who was in prime position at the center of the box, but the shot was saved by Charlotte goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina.
With the result, Charlotte remains winless in its inaugural MLS season. Atlanta United's unbeaten streak at home extends to nine.
“For me, that’s the connection that I always talk about when the crowd is on the same page with the players and they know what we need,” head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. “I think that’s the result, and I’m just happy for that connection.”
Atlanta United dominated the first half. The club possessed 70 percent, took nine shots, five on goal, and more than doubled Charlotte’s passes (284 to 113).
Charlotte gained momentum at the end of the first half that carried over into the second. When it went down 1-0 after Martínez’s goal, Charlotte pressed and played with urgency to get on the score board.
Atlanta utilized the flanks to create chances in the attacking third. The team’s 17 crosses and 11 corner kicks forced Charlotte to clear the ball 19 times and block five Atlanta shots.
“The reaction from the team is what I love,” Pineda said. “It’s the reaction, the players impacting the game from the bench, I think that was a massive positive. And also the reaction from our players with the heart, with the passion, with the intensity… winning duels, winning tackles and sending messages here and there but continue playing.”
The match started with a great opportunity for Martínez. In the fourth minute, Lennon crossed the ball and Martínez headed it down for a bouncing shot on goal, but Kahlina came up with the save.
It appeared Atlanta United made it 1-0 in the 15th minute. Andrew Gutman sent a header into the net off a corner kick, but Martínez was called for the foul and the goal didn’t count.
A few minutes later, Gutman had another chance on a left-footed shot near the left post, but Kahlina came up with the save.
Both teams created chances early, and the first half concluded with 14 total shots. By the end of the match, Atlanta United had taken that many shots total on its own. Charlotte finished with 12.
“They had a little bit of momentum in the second half, they had a lot more chances,” Mulraney said. “But overall, we dominated larger parts of the game. I feel like we had a lot more possession.”
It was an exceptional day for both goalkeepers. Kahlina and Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan each had six saves during the match.
Guzan came up with three major saves at the end of the first half – and two more at the start of the second half – to keep the match even. First, in the 40th on a twitchy block to a header Karol Swiderski. He blocked another header from Swiderski in the 43rd minute, then saved a driven ball on a shot from midfielder Benjamin Bender, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft.
“Brad is the first attacker,” Pineda said. “Brad is the first one that starts our buildup and will play out from the back and that we play out from the goal kicks, and he’s the first one in possession in our team.”
Thiago Almada made his debut for Atlanta United, coming on as a sub in the 56th minute. The midfielder from Argentina trained with the club during the preseason trip to Mexico, but had to wait on his visa to travel to the U.S. He arrived in Atlanta last week and trained with the team for the first time in Atlanta on Friday.
For Atlanta United, Alonso returned to the starting XI after sitting out against Colorado due to precautionary reasons. He played the full 90 minutes against Charlotte.
“I’m happy to be back and everything was good, so that’s why I played today,” Alonso said.
The team was without Miles Robinson on Sunday. Last season’s MLS Defender of the Year candidate received two yellow cards against the Rapids and was suspended for the match on Sunday. George Campbell and Alan Franco started as the center backs.
The two clubs meet again on April 10 when Atlanta United travels to Bank of America Stadium. Up next, Atlanta United returns to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to host CF Montreal on Saturday, March 19.
Atlanta United Starters: Brad Guzan (C), Ronald Hernández (Jake Mulraney – 83’), Alan Franco, Andrew Gutman, George Campbell; Matheus Rossetto, Amar Sejdić (Marcelino Moreno – 57’), Osvaldo Alonso; Josef Martínez, Brooks Lennon, Tyler Wolff (Thiago Almada – 56’)
Atlanta United substitutes not used: Alex De John, Dom Dwyer, Santiago Sosa, Bobby Shuttleworth, Caleb Wiley
Charlotte FC Starters: Kristijan Kahlina; Guzmán Corujo, Christian Makoun, Christian Fuchs (C), Jaylin Lindsey; Cristian Ortiz (Adam Armour – 45’), Brandt Bronico, Ben Bender, Alan Franco; Karol Swiderski (Daniel Rios – 69’), McKinze Gaines (Harrison Afful – 45’)
Charlotte FC substitutes not used: Jan Sobocinski, Anton Walkes, Jordy Alcívar, Harrison Afful, Joseph Mora, George Marks, Koa Santos
Yellow cards: CLT – Cristian Ortiz (30’), Alan Franco (CLT, 36’), Brandt Bronico (75’), Daniel Rios (84’), George Campbell (87’), Osvaldo Alonso (90+1’)