Atlanta United returned to their electric attacking ways to earn their first win of the season in front of yet another record-breaking crowd Sunday, topping D.C. United 3-1 in their 2018 home debut.
Head Coach Tata Martino shook up the lineup to perfection after last week’s disappointing result, switching to a three-man back line with Jeff Larentowicz moving back up into the midfield, replacing Chris McCann. Captain Michael Parkhurst returned to the starting lineup in Larentowicz’s place in the defense. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Franco Escobar (CB), Greg Garza (LWB), Jeff Larentowicz (CDM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Julian Gressel (RWB), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Tito Villalba (ST), Josef Martinez (ST).
Atlanta United’s high-pressing, dominant possession style was evident from the start, pushing D.C.’s defense into their own penalty box from the start. Julian Gressel stung the goalkeeper’s hands with a powerful effort from the right side after a nice through-ball from Tito Villalba. But 24 minutes in, Mercedes-Benz Stadium went wild with the first goal of the Atlanta United season. Darlington Nagbe played a perfect through ball into space for Tito Villalba on the right wing, who seared a low service across the face of goal for Josef Martinez to slide home inside the far post.
The red, black and gold were just as dominant on the defensive end, limiting D.C. to just one shot that went off target for the entire first half. And halfway though the second half came the moment of the match. Another flowing Atlanta United attack found Tito Villalba running on the right flank. He played Julian Gressel behind the defense, and his perfect cut-back pass found Miguel Almirón at the top of the box. The Paraguayan needed no second invitation, swerving an unstoppable finish inside the top corner of the far post.
It took just two more minutes for Atlanta United to all but end the match as a contest. In the 75th minute, a short corner routine found the foot of Miguel Almirón, and his curling cross connected with the head of Tito Villalba, whose deflected header made it 3-0 for the Five Stripes.
D.C. United was able to score a consolation goal a few minutes before full time, but Kevin Kratz, Romario Williams and Andrew Carleton added fresh energy off the bench in the 2nd half to help secure the result.
As sweet a victory as it was, the real headline was once again in the stands. 72,035 fans packed into Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first home match of the season, breaking the MLS single-match attendance record yet again. Atlanta United continue to blow away every other fanbase, now owning all of the top three attendance numbers for a single match in MLS history.
Atlanta United will now look to build on this momentum with another home match next weekend against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. EST on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Tickets are still available, make sure you’ve reserved yours here.