A disappointing night for Atlanta United, whose eight-match unbeaten run ended with a 3-1 loss to D.C. United Sunday.
Tata Martino sent out the same lineup that was so successful last week on the road against Orlando City, with Julian Gressel falling back to right back and Ezequiel Barco getting his second straight start on the left wing. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Chris McCann (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Julian Gressel (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Eric Remedi (CM), Ezequiel Barco (LW) Miguel Almirón (CAM), Tito Villalba (RW), Josef Martinez (ST).
The match started like it often does against D.C., with the Five Stripes dominating possession and circulating the ball around a packed-in defense. Tito Villalba forced a smart save out of D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid, while Ezequiel Barco beat the goalkeeper but couldn’t beat the post, with an effort ricocheting off the upright and out. D.C. capitalized on the missed chances, with Luciano Acosta scoring on D.C.’s first real chance of the game to make it 1-0.
The Five Stripes fought back, piling on the pressure once again. This time they turned that dominance into a goal, and it came from an unlikely source. After a near-finish from close range by Remedi was blocked out of bounds for a corner kick, Ezequiel Barco curled in a beautiful corner kick and Jeff Larentowicz leapt highest, steering the ball inside the far post for the equalizer.
Atlanta United finished the half strong, but the first-half whistle came just a few minutes later. And while the energy was there coming out of the half, a controversial decision stopped their momentum. D.C.’s Paul Arriola got behind the defense and Ezequiel Barco showed great energy to get back to pressure the U.S. international. But the ref called a clip on Arriola’s ankle and pointed to the spot, with Wayne Rooney scoring from the resulting penalty kick.
Tata Martino went all out for the win, with Kevin Kratz coming in for defender Michael Parkhurst to push another body forward into midfield. But another counterattack was Atlanta United’s undoing, with Luciano Acosta getting behind the defense and poking one past Brad Guzan to make it 3-1.
One highlight of the night came with fifteen minutes to play, with another historic step for Atlanta United and its Academy system. Left back George Bello, a 16-year-old from Douglasville, Georgia, came on in place of Tito Villalba in the 76th minute. In doing so he became the second ever Atlanta United Academy product to make an MLS appearance for the first team, and the youngest ever in club history. But despite more sustained pressure, he wasn't able to help turn the tide as the final whistle blew with a 3-1 score.
Despite the loss, Atlanta United sits just one point off the Supporters’ Shield lead with a game in hand on the team ahead of them. After a week off next weekend, they will head west for a two-game road trip to face the Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes. They'll then return to Atlanta to host Real Salt Lake at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time ever, with more than 70,000 fans expected in attendance to fill the stands with red black and gold. Tickets to that match are still available, make sure you’ve reserved yours here.