Some useful practice for playoff time as a strong defensive performance helped Atlanta United grind out a road result against the New York Red Bulls in New Jersey Sunday.
With a week and a half of rest and players back from international duty, head coach Tata Martino was able to pick the strongest lineup available to him, barring injuries, as they looked to avenge the club’s loss in their inaugural match. Miguel Almirón’s spot in midfield was taken again by Julian Gressel, while Mikey Ambrose filled in at left back with Greg Garza and Chris McCann forced to the sidelines. The full starting XI to face the Red Bulls: Brad Guzan (GK), Mikey Ambrose (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Anton Walkes (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Carlos Carmona (CM), Yamil Asad (LW), Julian Gressel (CAM), Tito Villalba (RW), Josef Martinez (ST).
Atlanta United’s best chance of the half came in the first six minutes. After forcing a turnover in midfield, Julian Gressel pushed forward on one of Atlanta’s trademark counter attacks, before laying it off to Tito Villalba on the wing. The Argentine’s inch-perfect cross fell perfectly to the head of Yamil Asad, but Luis Robles was up for the challenge with a nice save in the Red Bulls goal from a point-blank header.
Watch: Yamil Asad inches away from taking the lead against New York
The rest of the first period was a story of two parts, with the first thirty minutes dominated by heavy stretches of Atlanta United pressure and the Red Bulls fighting back into the match for the final fifteen. But the Five Stripes can sometimes be at their most threatening on the counter when the other team is in possession, and that’s what happened just before halftime, with Tito Villalba racing onto a through ball from Yamil Asad behind the defense to come inches away from taking the lead.
Watch: Villalba almost takes the lead before half vs New York
The second half was another tense, tactical battle with both teams creating chances on the opposing goal. Tito Villalba forced a smart save out of Luis Robles, then it was Brad Guzan’s turn to come up big for his side in goal just after the hour mark. A quickly-taken free kick got the ball behind the Atlanta United defense, but a strong left hand from Brad Guzan kept New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips out of the net to preserve the clean sheet.
Watch: Brad Guzan comes up huge to keep the clean sheet
Both teams knocked on the door but couldn’t break through in the final half hour, with Atlanta United leaving with a point against a team that haven’t lost at home since June. The draw leaves Atlanta United in fourth place – still in position to host a first-round playoff game – just two points behind New York City FC in second.
The red, black and gold will try to make the final push to solidify their playoff positioning next weekend as they host Supporter Shield winners Toronto FC, a team they drew 1-1 on the road earlier this year. More than 70,000 tickets have already been sold for that one as the fans break the MLS regular season attendance record for the second time this season. Make sure you’ve got your spot reserved by getting your ticket here.