There have been signs of progress for weeks for Atlanta United, but the Five Stripes desperately needed a result –– and they got just that Saturday, getting their first home win of the season with a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids.
Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer made two changes to the starting lineup that fell at home last week, with Pity Martinez and Franco Escobar each returning from injury to get the start. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Brek Shea (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Miles Robinson (CB), Franco Escobar (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Pity Martinez (CAM), Ezequiel Barco (LW), Josef Martinez (ST), Julian Gressel (RW).
Atlanta United jumped out into a dominant possession play from the start, owning the ball and constantly pushing and prodding at the Colorado Rapids defense. But with ten Rapids players behind the ball at all times, it was tough for the Five Stripes attackers to create much room for big chances on goal. Leandro González Pirez tested the goalkeeper several times from deep, and a corner kick was nearly diverted into the Rapids goal, but the team went into the half tied up at 0-0.
The second half was more statistical dominance from Atlanta United, but they started to add chance creation to their first-half performance as well. Julian Gressel nodded a cross in from Pity Martinez just wide of the target, while Josef Martinez was seemingly a foot away from several crossing chances whipped across the Colorado goal. As Atlanta United pushed for a goal, Tito Villalba and Eric Remedi came on to bring a fresh attacking impetus to the front line.
Finally, with 15 minutes left on the clock, it was Darlington Nagbe who provided the catalyst for the winner. It was impressive defense to start it off, with Nagbe intercepting a pass deep in Rapids territory and muscling his defender off the ball. He combined that strength with silky skill, cutting inside before slicing between two Rapids defenders to bring the ball back to the byline. Julian Gressel was timing a run across the face of goal at the perfect time, and poked Nagbe’s finish inside the near post and in past Tim Howard in the Rapids goal.
With the Rapids in need of an equalizer, it opened up space for Atlanta United on the counter, and they nearly took advantage to pile on their advantage. Tito Villalba’s curling effort smacked off the post, and Tim Howard just barely got a fingertip to a chipped ball that would have led to a tap-in to make it a two-goal night for Julian Gressel. But in the end, the one goal is all Atlanta United would need, with 43,005 fans roaring the team on for the final minutes and erupting at the final whistle after the first home win of the year.
Next up for Atlanta United is a tricky road fixture against Western Conference powerhouse Sporting Kansas City next Sunday. They’ll then return on Wednesday to face the 2017 Supporters’ Shield winners Toronto FC back at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as the Five Stripes aim to start their climb up the table. Tickets to that match are still available, so make sure you’ve reserved yours here.