It was a day of revenge for Atlanta United, after a scintillating first-half attacking display overwhelmed NYCFC for a comfortable 3-1 win in front of 44,901 fans – a fifth straight sold-out crowd – at Bobby Dodd Stadium Sunday.
Coming off a dominant 4-1 win over the Houston Dynamo last week, Atlanta United opted for the same starting lineup in their second straight game at Bobby Dodd stadium: Alec Kann (GK), Greg Garza (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Tyrone Mears (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Carlos Carmona (CM), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Julian Gressel (RW), Yamil Asad (LW), and Tito Villalba (ST). The red, black and gold were out for payback against a NYCFC side that handed them their most recent loss, a 3-1 defeat in the reverse fixture three matches ago.
It was no surprise who opened the scoring. With 15 minutes on the clock, Tito Villalba hit a beautiful through ball to Julian Gressel behind the defense, and the rookie's cutback pass fell perfectly to the reigning MLS Player of the week, Miguel Almirón. Fresh off his hat trick at Bobby Dodd stadium last week, the Paraguayan found himself in plenty of space alone in the box and made no mistake, slotting home the first goal of the game.
With the visitors still reeling, the second goal would come just three minutes later. Yamil Asad used a burst of pace to beat his defender in the middle of the park and his through pass to Tito Villalba left the defenders completely stranded. The Argentinian was decisive from there, taking one touch toward goal and curling it around the diving hand of New York City's Sean Johnson.
If the first two goals were down to skill, the third, in the 23rd minute, was down to graft. Julian Gressel's pressure on the New York defense paid off with him swiping the ball off Alexander Callens near the touchline. With just the goalkeeper in his way, the rookie winger showed composure and laid it off to the onrushing Almirón, who first-timed a far post tap-in into the empty net. NYCFC's David Villa would get one more shot on target in the 36th minute, but a dominant first half for the red, black and gold ended 3-0.
NYCFC turned up the pressure midway through the second half. In the 71st minute, a loose touch from an Atlanta United corner kick set up a counter-attack for New York. With the defense still getting back into position, Ben Sweat floated a cross to the back post just over the head of the defense. Jack Harrison met the cross and rolled a first-time shot past Alec Kann to make it 3-1.
Atlanta United responded with a tactical change in the 79th minute, bringing on Kevin Kratz for Gressel for a little more defensive solidity with a lead to protect. Kenwyne Jones then replaced Tito Villalba and Chris McCann subbed on for Almirón – who was awarded the Golden Spike for his stellar performance – in the final few minutes to close out the 3-1 victory.
The theme of the game for the Five Stripes? Clinical finishing. Every one of Atlanta United's first three shots found the back of the net, and the interplay between Almirón, Gressel and Villalba effectively put the game away before the half-hour mark. But a major contribution that won't show up on the stat sheet was that of Jeff Larentowicz, whose 317th start ranks him eight most in MLS history. The 33-year-old has been a cool head and a defensive powerhouse in the midfield all season, and that was on display again in this game, where he clogged up the passing lanes in front of the back four where Villa and Maxi Moralez do their best work.
“They were the only team that really outplayed us during the game in New York," said Villalba through a translator. "Today, we were able to wake up on the right foot and we were able to flip the score on them and get the win. I think it’s important because we’ve been working really hard in practice to get a result like that.”
Atlanta United's second straight home win pushed them up within a point of sixth place, with two games in hand. It also means they are now the top-scoring team in the league with 27 goals, ahead of Toronto who has also played two more games. Atlanta United heads on the road for the next two weeks, with matchups against the Whitecaps and Chicago Fire coming up before they return to Bobby Dodd to face the Columbus Crew on June 17th. Tickets are still available, with single-game tickets and group packages available now on our tickets page.