Five years to the day that Atlanta United played its first home match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the 5-Stripes delivered a memorable performance in front of a rowdy home crowd, scoring four goals in the second half, three from Juanjo Purata, to defeat Eastern Conference opponent Toronto FC 4-2.
First half – Dom Dwyer starts for Atlanta United, Luiz Araújo takes a penalty kick
Head coach Gonzalo Pineda made a few changes to the starting XI for this match. With Josef Martínez unavailable, the head coach went with Dom Dwyer up top. Defender Ronald Hernández also got the nod in the starting lineup at right fullback.
It was also Atlanta United’s annual Unite & Conquer Cancer match to raise awareness for childhood cancer. Pediatric cancer patients served as the Golden Spike hitter and honorary captain for the match. On the pitch before kickoff, a group formed a human ribbon of gold, the international symbol for pediatric cancer awareness. The team wore the MLS Kick Childhood Cancer pre-match tops during warm ups.
Atlanta United got off to a quick start. In the second minute, Dwyer tapped it forward to a streaking Luiz Araújo. The Brazilian used his speed to carry the ball up the pitch and took a shot on goal. It was collected by goalkeeper Quentin Westberg for the first shot and save of the match.
In the ninth minute, Atlanta United got another exciting look. Defender Andrew Gutman, showing 1v1 skills that are pretty nifty for a fullback, took on the Toronto defense. He dished the ball to Dwyer and got the ball back at close range, but his shot went high.
Atlanta United was awarded a penalty kick for a hard foul on Brooks Lennon inside the box. Araújo stepped up to take the PK in the 12th minute for Atlanta and struck a low shot into the left corner with his left foot. The ball didn’t have enough pace to get past Westberg and the match remained scoreless.
In another opportunity for the 5-Stripes in the 24th minute, Gutman sent a long cross that was gathered by Lennon. He sent a low cross back to Araújo in the center of the box but the shot was blocked.
It looked like Atlanta United conceded a penalty in the 34th minute and that Toronto FC would get their turn to open the scoring on a penalty kick. However after video review, the referee determined that there was no foul on the play and Toronto did not get to take the PK.
The first half was largely dominated by the home side. Atlanta United took 11 shots and possessed 65 percent. Atlanta United’s defense held Toronto to one shot that came in the 34th minute.
Second half – Juanjo Purata scores a hat trick on three headers, Thiago Almada scores a banger
After a scoreless first half, the play really opened up in the second 45. Atlanta United gave the crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium something to cheer about right out of the gate. In the 47th minute off a corner kick from Lennon, defender Juanjo Purata scored on a header. It was Purata’s fourth goal of the season, all on headers.
However, it didn’t take long for Toronto FC to answer. The visitors moved the ball down the middle of the field and Atlanta United goalkeeper Raúl Gudiño came off his line to block the attack. Forward Ayo Akinola was able to squeeze a shot low past Gudiño and even the match 1-1 in the 52nd minute. It was Toronto’s first shot on goal of the night.
Atlanta United regained the lead in the 62nd minute. On a corner kick, Gutman headed it high over the box. Amar Sejdić got on the end of it and headed the ball in the air across the box. Purata redirected it for his fifth goal on the season on, once again, a header. Atlanta United regained the lead 2-1.
Again, Toronto FC equalized very quickly. The visitors were awarded a penalty kick after a foul in the area. Forward Federico Bernardeschi stepped up and drilled the shot in the lower right corner of the net to tie the match 2-2.
In the 70th minute, Pineda made his first substitutions of the match. Ronaldo Cisneros and Edwin Mosquera came on for Dwyer and Hernández.
Thiago Almada scored the go-ahead goal for Atlanta United in the 74th minute. The crafty midfielder made some moves at the top of the box, outmaneuvering the Toronto FC defense. He created enough space for himself to deliver a banger and put Atlanta United ahead 3-2. The goal was Almada’s fifth of the season.
In the 86th minute, Pineda made another pair of substitutions. Caleb Wiley and Franco Ibarra entered the match for Sejdić and Araújo.
Atlanta United added the icing on the cake in the 88th minute when Purata made it 4-2 on yet another header. The goal made it a hat trick on the night for the center back and his sixth goal on the season - all six goals on headers. His six goals makes him the highest scoring defender in club history. Purata also becomes just the fourth player in club history to score a hat trick.
Up next – Double match week for Atlanta United
The 5-Stripes have two matches next week, both against Eastern Conference opponents. First, they face Orlando SC on the road at Exploria Stadium. Then, the team returns home to take on Eastern Conference leaders, Philadelphia Union.