Atlanta United hosted Portland Timbers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday in what was a flashback to the setting of the 2018 MLS Cup when the two sides met and Atlanta lifted the trophy. In this edition, Atlanta United got five goals from four different goal scorers, including a brace from Thiago Almada and the first career MLS goal for Giorgos Giakoumakis, to defeat the visitors 5-1 and remain unbeaten on the season.
First half - Giorgos Giakoumakis makes his first start, Caleb Wiley and Thiago Almada combine for goals
Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda went with the same starting XI as last week against Charlotte FC with one exception: Giorgos Giakoumakis got the start up top at striker. It's the first career MLS and club start for the 28-year-old from Greece. Saturday was also a milestone marker for Miles Robinson. The center back for Atlanta United made his 100th appearance in an MLS regular season match.
The action began quickly as it appeared that Portland Timbers, wearing their Heritage Rose kit, opened the scoring in the second minute. Midfielder Eryk Williamson ripped a shot from about 24 yards out through traffic. However, after VAR the goal was called back due to offsides on Jaroslaw Niezgoda of Portland.
But it was Atlanta United that opened the scoring. After clearing the ball out of trouble on a Portland corner kick, Atlanta United created a very quick counter attack. Midfielder Thiago Almada received a lob from Franco Ibarra and carried the ball up the pitch. In a combination that looked awfully similar to Caleb Wiley's first goal against Charlotte FC last week, Almada found the Homegrown again wide open. Wiley finished the shot to send the supporters at Mercedes-Benz Stadium into a frenzy and put the home side ahead 1-0 in the 25th minute.
The goal was Wiley's third of the season. Almada was credited with the assist, also his third on the year. Almada's assist was no. 300 in Atlanta United MLS regular season history.
After the goal, the match really opened up for Atlanta United, specifically playing the ball through Almada. A few minutes after the score, the midfielder found Giakoumakis on a run, which resulted in a shot from close-range that required a save from Portland goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic. Then again, around the 31st minute Almada dribbled then made a nice cut to find a streaking Araújo. The Brazilian had a good chance for a shot on frame, but his low-driven ball missed to the left.
Almada was indeed the second goal scorer on the night. After Giakoumakis drew a penalty on Portland, Atlanta United was awarded a direct free kick. From around 35 yards out, the Argentine curled a spectacular, world-class shot that banked into the upper right corner. It was Almada's third goal on the season and second on a direct free kick. The goal in first-half stoppage time put the home side ahead 2-0 right before the halftime break.
Second half - Atlanta United stays on the front foot, Giakoumakis scores his first goal, Thiago Almada scores again
Atlanta United continued to play on the front foot at the start of the second half. It appeared that Giakoumakis had scored his first goal for Atlanta United, but he was called offsides on the play. Gutman also had a good look, on a through ball sent by Almada, but on a difficult angle his first-touch shot went just wide.
After pressing all night, Giakoumakis also found the back of the net to record his first career goal for the 5-Stripes. After receiving a long cross, Araújo switched it back to Wiley on a 60-yard cross to the left side. The 18-year-old calmly collected the ball then delivered a pinpoint cross to Giakoumakis. The striker put his head on the end of it and finished to put Atlanta United up 3-0 in the 59th minute. Both Araújo and Wiley were credited with assists.
In the 72nd minute, Pineda made his first substitutions of the match. Santiago Sosa and Derrick Etienne Jr. came on for Franco Ibarra and Wiley.
Atlanta United had a healthy lead three goals up but wasn't done scoring. Almada lifted the ball to Araújo, who controlled it inside the box under heavy pressure. The Brazilian showed great control then struck a low ball with his favored left foot. The shot trickled in for Araújo's second goal in as many matches. Almada was credited with the assist. The home side led 4-1.
Pineda made a couple more substitutions in the 77th minute. Miguel Berry and Jay Fortune entered the match for Amar Sejdić and Giakoumakis.
Atlanta's clean sheet wasn't meant to be, however. In the 83rd minute, Tega Ikoba scored on a nice header to put the Timbers on the board.
The home team soon answered (again) behind our Starboy. Derrick Etienne Jr. took his defender 1v1 then fed the ball to Almada centrally right above the PK spot in the box. Almada made a quick turn and placed the ball past Ivacic to score Atlanta's fifth goal in the 86th minute. The goal marked Almada's second goal of the night. Etienne was given the assist.
And 5-1 is where Atlanta United's stellar night concluded, more than doubling the score from the last time these two teams faced off at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The 5-Stripes have outscored their opponents 8-1 in the past two games and scored 5+ goals in an MLS match for the first time since July 17, 2019. Atlanta United remain unbeaten on the season and continues the best start in club history.
Up next - Atlanta United travels to take on Columbus Crew
Atlanta United is back on the road next Saturday for an Eastern Conference matchup against Columbus Crew at Lower.com Field. The 5-Stripes will be without a few players who have been called up to play for their national teams during the March FIFA international window.
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