With just five matches remaining in the regular season, Atlanta United came into Wednesday night needing to capitalize on the opportunity for three points at home. For 89 minutes, the club did just that.
But a late equalizer from New York City FC ripped three points away from Atlanta, and the result was a 1-1 draw.
Atlanta gets one point and now has 43 points in the table, enough for it to hold on to fifth place in the Eastern Conference at the time the match ended.
“We’re still in a decent position in terms of the table, but certainly tonight will leave a disappointing taste in our mouth,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said.
Midfielder Marcelino Moreno scored the goal to put Atlanta ahead 1-0 in the 17th minute. Atlanta held the lead for more than two-thirds of the match. Then, New York City scored in the 90th minute on a free kick from midfielder Gudmundur Thórarinsson.
“We lost two points. Simple. That’s it,” head coach Gonzalo Pineda said after the match.
New York City was on the attack early, looking more like a confident rival than a squad that’s gone winless in its previous five matches. New York City took four shots in the first 10 minutes, forcing Guzan to make two quick saves.
After those first few minutes when New York City had successful pressure, Atlanta dominated. The 5-Stripes took 13 shots, seven on goal, but was unable to get a second after Moreno’s.
“That final third entrance is the one that we are lacking a little bit,” Pineda said.
Atlanta was without two members of its lethal four-man attack for significant portions of the match. Striker Josef Martínez, who has been dealing with a tight hamstring, came off the bench in the 59th minute. Midfielder Ezequiel Barco, one of the club’s most consistent players, missed the match due to red card suspension.
Moreno and striker Luiz Araújo worked well together without their two counterparts. To create the goal, Araújo stole the ball in the midfield then rapidly countered. A 3v2 fast break developed and Araújo left the ball for Moreno on his left. Moreno hit a strong, one-touch shot with his left foot into the right corner.
The goal was Moreno’s ninth on the season, his second in two matches. Araújo was credited with the assist on the goal, his third on the season.
Later in the first half, Araújo slipped a gorgeous, no-look ball across the field. Moreno took the ball to goal but was tackled before he could get off a shot.
It was plays like that when the team almost got a second goal. There were some missed chances, players sometimes taking an extra touch or dribbling too much.
“We are not clinical and that cost us tonight,” Pineda said. “Because in those moments when we are dominating the game we have to make sure we score the goals.”
Pineda has been purposeful about keeping his options open in situations like this when a player or two might be unavailable. With Martínez coming off the bench, Pineda still opted to go with a true no. 9. In his place, forward Erick Torres made the start and played 59 minutes.
Torres created one of Atlanta's best chances of the night in the 55th minute. He passed the ball out to defender George Bello sprinting forward in the attacking third. Bello took a touch then struck a hard-hit ball that clanged off the crossbar.
“We just got to be better next game,” midfielder Matheus Rossetto said.
Robinson had a game-high 12 recovers and eight clearances. Guzan made six saves on the night.
“I felt that we were solid defensively,” Pineda said.
Although the defense didn’t give up any clear chances, it's the late-game set piece that'll linger.
“It’s not the result we wanted,” Rossetto said. “But we will learn a lot from this game and fix those details that we have to fix for next game.”