Atlanta United’s eight-match unbeaten streak came to a disappointing close Wednesday as a 10-man Five Stripes squad went toe-to-toe but fell just short against Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City.
With Franco Escobar out from last week’s lineup with injury, head coach Tata Martino reverted back to the 4-2-3-1 formation that was so successful last season. Tito Villalba returned to the starting lineup for the first time since his injury and Sal Zizzo made his first start for the club at right back. The full starting XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Greg Garza (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Sal Zizzo (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CDM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Ezequiel Barco (RW), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Tito Villalba (RW), Josef Martinez (ST).
Atlanta United poured on the pressure right away, with Josef Martinez putting one in the back of the net just five minutes into the game, only to be ruled out for offside after video review. Tito Villalba also came close in the 15th minute, stopped from point blank range by Sporting KC’s Tim Melia in goal. But the game turned on its head 34 minutes into the match when Brad Guzan was sent off for a foul just outside the box that was ruled a denial of a goal-scoring opportunity.
Atlanta United was a man down but were galvanized for the rest of the match, continuing to lay on the pressure against the Western Conference leaders. But Sporting found a breakthrough in the 67th minute when Daniel Salloi curled one from outside the area past rookie goalkeeper Paul Christensen to take the lead.
The Five Stripes roared back once again, piling on the pressure and looking for the equalizer despite the man disadvantage. The sell-out crowd roared the team on as the team racked up shot after shot, with Kevin Kratz putting two free kicks on target but just within reach of Melia in the KC net. Atlanta racked up an 8-3 advantage in shots on target but just couldn’t quite find their way into the net. Sporting final broke out of the Atlanta United pressure and scored on a counter-attack goal to effectively end the game in the 87th minute.
Despite the loss, Atlanta United remains at the top of the Eastern Conference and tied for the league lead in goal differential. The Five Stripes now look to refocus as they prepare to hit the road to take on Orlando City in Florida on Sunday. They return to Atlanta in 11 days to host the New York Red Bulls in Atlanta for the first time since their inaugural match last season. Tickets to that match are still available, so make sure you’ve reserved yours here.