Despite Atlanta United sitting on top of the Supporters’ Shield standings, the team need a jolt after a disappointing draw last week. And that’s just what they got Saturday, with a dominant 4-0 win over Orlando City in signature attacking style that sent 70,000+ fans in red, black and gold into raptures.
The big question coming into the match was who would replace Darlington Nagbe’s influential presence in the middle of the park, and it was the ever-reliable Julian Gressel that Tata Martino trusted in a more central role. That left an opening for Tito Villalba to return to the right wing in the 4-2-3-1 formation that was so successful last season. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Mikey Ambrose (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Franco Escobar (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Julian Gressel (CM), Ezequiel Barco (LW), Miguel Almirón (CAM), Tito Villalba (RW), Josef Martinez (ST).
The ball had hardly kicked off before Atlanta United jumped out in front. Just three minutes into the match, Julian Gressel found a pocket of space just outside the penalty box on the right wing. He sent in an early cross that was too hot for the Orlando defenders to handle, and the ball skidded all the way to Josef Martinez at the back post to slide home.
Orlando City would re-gain their footing and push back, putting Atlanta under pressure for small pockets late in the first half. They almost found the back of the net on a corner, but Mikey Ambrose was there to clear the ball heroically off the line and send the match into the half at 1-0. But after a 15-minute halftime breather, Atlanta United jumped out of the gates in the second half and never looked back. Eight minutes in, it was a signature Atlanta United counterattack that started all the way in its own box. Tito fed Josef Martinez beautifully into space, and the Venezuelan hit an inch-perfect through ball into Almirón’s path behind the defense. His electric pace was enough from there, and the Paraguayan slotted it past Joe Bendik to extend the lead to two.
Less than three minutes later, Atlanta United went from the better side to a rampant one. Jeff Larentowicz pounced on a loose touch from an Orlando defender inside his own past and slid it to Almirón at the top of the penalty box. Almirón’s arcing shot nearly beat Bendik on its own, but the shot smacked off the upright and to the foot of Ezequiel Barco, who hit a half-volley off the bounce and inside the far post to make it 3-0.
No team is better at taking advantage when a team is down than Atlanta United, and the Five Stripes wasn’t done with just three. In the 78th minute, Mikey Ambrose skidded a pass to Miguel Almirón on the left wing, and the Paraguayan showed his strength to hold off Jonathan Spector and fire a rocket in between Joe Bendik’s legs for the scoreline that the play on the day deserved.
It was a sight to behold for the 71,932 fans in attendance, the biggest crowd for a soccer match in the world on the day and the fourth-highest attendance in MLS history. The win keeps Atlanta United at the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings for another week, with 37 points so far this year. They’ll put that record to the test again on Wednesday, with a two-match road trip to FC Dallas and the Philadelphia Union next week. The squad returns to Atlanta on July 15th to face the Seattle Sounders in another expanded capacity match in just two weeks. Tickets to that match are still available, so make sure you’ve reserved yours here.