Atlanta United has shown dynamism, defensive steel and attacking flair in their unbeaten streak and they showed their resiliency Saturday, coming back from a goal down with a thrilling 4-1 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium over the Montreal Impact.
Tata Martino kept up his 3-5-2 formation that has proven so effective over the past two months, with the same starting lineup that faced the LA Galaxy last weekend. The major news was the return of Tito Villalba, who was healthy enough to make the bench after his injury absence. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Chris McCann (LCB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Leandro González Pirez (RCB), Greg Garza (LWB), Jeff Larentowicz (CDM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Julian Gressel (RWB), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Ezequiel Barco (CF), Josef Martinez (ST).
Atlanta United started immediately on the front foot, packing on the pressure against a compact, deep-lying Montreal Impact defense. Josef Martinez came closest in the 5th minute, with his point-blank header batted away. But it was Montreal who struck first with Saphir Taider’s diving header getting past Brad Guzan in the Atlanta United net. That’s the way it stood for the rest of the first half, with Atlanta Untied unable to break through Montreal’s defensive approach.
Tata Martino brought his team out with aggression in the second half bringing on forward Tito Villalba coming in for defensive midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. The Five Stripes’ relentless attack finally broke through in the 68th minute, when Darlington Nagbe found Chris McCann behind the defense with a lobbed through ball. The Irishman’s headed ball back across the box was handled by the Montreal defender, and Almirón stepped up with a lethal finish from the spot to equalize.
The ensuing 20 minutes can only be described as an all-out landslide from the Atlanta United attack. First, it was Kevin Kratz who put his set-piece skill on display with a deep free kick, blasting the ball over the wall and curling it inside the far post to take the lead.
Six minutes later, it was Almirón again to take the game out of Montreal’s reach. The Paraguayan skipped past his defender in midfield and ran at the Impact back line, finding Josef Martinez on a run behind. The ball was intercepted, but fell to Almirón’s feet, who coolly slotted past the Montreal goalkeeper for the third goal of the match.
In stoppage time, Kevin Kratz put an exclamation point on an incredible substitute performance. With 94 minutes on the clock, the German stepped up to a free kick from all of 40 yards, pinging the ball off the post and in with another unstoppable finish.
The 4-1 final stretched Atlanta United’s unbeaten streak to seven in front of 45,039 of the Five Stripe faithful at Mercedes-Benz Stadium –– and took the red, black and gold up to first place in the Supporters’ Shield standings at the time of the final whistle. They’ll try to keep that going next weekend on the road against the Chicago Fire, before returning to Atlanta to face Sporting Kansas City the following Wednesday. Tickets to that match are still available, so make sure you’ve reserved yours here.