Atlanta United traveled to the West Coast to face Los Angeles FC in a midweek MLS match. The 5-Stripes battled through LA's high pressure and relentless attack to come out with a scoreless draw at BMO Stadium. Atlanta's unbeaten streak extends to five matches.
It was a big night for goalkeeper Brad Guzan. The 38-year-old recorded his 150th MLS regular season start and his 50th clean sheet for Atlanta United, becoming the first to reach either milestone for the club. Guzan showed why he is referred to as the big, bald wall, as he recorded eight saves, five in the first half, to keep the score level.
Guzan's biggest test came in the 73rd minute after a foul in the box by Juanjo Purata resulted in a penalty kick for LA. Guzan made a huge save on striker Carlos Vela's shot, but it was overturned due to Guzan coming off the line prior to the shot. Vela's second attempt soared over the goal.
LAFC came out on the attack early. Leading goal-scorer Dénis Bouanga won the ball right outside the box and sent in a left-footed shot in the 12th minute, but Guzan was off his line ready to make the save. Los Angeles earned a free kick near the end of the first half, and midfielder José Cifuentes' shot was inches away from slipping into the bottom right corner before a diving Guzan pushed the ball out of play.
"Last week, I didn't help the team, and I had to bounce back," Guzan said after the match, "and tonight I was able to make some saves, keep the clean sheet and help us get an important point on the road in a game where for sure in the second half we were second-best. Our backs were against the wall, but to stay strong and stay tall, come up with some saves, was happy to play my part."
The rest of Atlanta's defense was just as locked in. Despite LAFC earning eight corners and taking 22 shots within the match, Atlanta made 32 clearances to keep the ball out of the net. Miles Robinson, who made his 100th MLS regular season start, matched up against Bouanga for most of the match and made it difficult for the striker to make runs into the box. Juanjo Purata, the only Atlanta player to start in all 16 matches this season, also held down the backline with multiple clearances.
"We were working very hard on defending and defending crosses," said head coach Gonzalo Pineda, "being under pressure and how we shut down the goal, and I thought that there were some tremendous performances defensively. Our back line was pretty good. Obviously, we want to play better, especially away, but happy with the mentality of keeping a clean sheet. A clean sheet always gives us a point."
"And it's a tough opponent," Pineda added. "It's the champion, the team at the top of the West, the team that went to the final of CCL, so we have to respect that and value this point because it was earned with good defending."
A few second-half subs for Atlanta nearly broke the deadlock in the 83rd minute. Gutman split two LA defenders to find Caleb Wiley making a run into the box. Wiley slipped the ball across to Jay Fortune right in front of goal, but his shot rolled just outside the goalpost. Atlanta also had two corners in the final moments of stoppage time but was unable to convert.
Despite only taking four shots on the night, Atlanta's early opportunities looked dangerous. In the 8th minute, Derrick Etienne Jr. made a quick flick onto Andrew Gutman running down the left flank. Gutman served in ball to Thiago Almada at the top of the box, but his shot sailed high. Tonight's match was the first time Atlanta has been shut out this season.
Up next - Atlanta hosts D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
The 5-Stripes will look to continue their unbeaten streak at home this Saturday, June 10. Atlanta will face Eastern Conference opponent D.C United, who sit just two points below Atlanta in the standings, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium at 7:30 p.m.