It was three straight home matches with three points for Atlanta United Saturday, as goals from Tito Villalba, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez dazzled yet another sold-out crowd at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Tata Martino stuck to his tried-and true lineup for MLS matches, with Josef Martinez back on the bench after a hard 90 minutes midweek. The ATL UTD XI vs Columbus Crew: Alec Kann (GK), Greg Garza (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Tyrone Mears (RB), Carlos Carmona (CM), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Yamil Asad (LW), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Julian Gressel (RW), Tito Villalba (ST).
Atlanta United thrives in fast starts, leading the league in goals scored in the first 15 minutes. They would ride that early momentum once again to take the lead just 11 minutes in. Crew center back Josh Williams took too much time on the ball just outside his own box and Yamil Asad pounced on the loose touch, poking the ball to Tito Villalba. Villalba was calm and made no mistake, curling the ball around the goalkeeper for his 6th goal of the season and Asad's 8th league assist, tied for most in MLS.
Columbus would get one back ten minutes later. In the 26th minute, a cross from the Crew's Ethan Finlay came in from the right and ricocheted off Ola Kamara in the box and to the feet of Federico Higuain, who slotted in the equalizer from close range. Yamil Asad almost regained the lead with a curling effort from outside the box, but a sprawling save from the Columbus goalkeeper would keep the score at 1-1 at halftime.
One of the highlights of the night came during half-time, when three of Atlanta United Academy's brightest stars were honored by club president Darren Eales for signing pro contracts. Read more about that unforgettable moment here.
Atlanta would come out with heavy pressure in the second half, and it would pay off with a goal just after the hour mark to re-take the lead. It started all the way from the back with Leandro González Pirez making a beautiful sliding tackle to halt the Columbus attack, then laying a perfectly-weighted through ball into the path of Miguel Almirón. The Paraguayan magician needed no help from there, dribbling half of the field himself and firing a low hard shot skidding across the turf and inside the far post.
Head coach Tata Martino opted for some defensive stability after the goal, with one eye on the short turnaround against DC United coming up on Wednesday. With Josef Martinez already on the field for Julian Gressel, Kevin Kratz and Chris McCann came into the game for Villalba and Almirón, putting in a strong shift with some fresh legs in midfield late in the game. But Josef Martinez announced his return to Bobby Dodd stadium in the 88th minute, receiving a ball in the box from Kevin Kratz and top-shelfing the goalkeeper from close range.
In the end it was a valuable three points for the red, black and gold and a party for the 44,922 fans who braved the severe weather delay to cheer on their team. But it's right back to work for the squad, who travel to the nation's capital to face D.C. United in another Eastern Conference matchup on Wednesday. The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET, and you can catch it all on Fox Sports South.
Atlanta will look to make it four straight home victories next weekend when they host the Colorado Rapids at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, June 24th at 7:00 pm ET. Tickets are still available, save your spot before it sells out again here.