All year long, Atlanta United has talked about a new sense of defensive solidity, and has proved that with an all-time MLS record for road wins in a season. They showed that once again to kick off their postseason run, grinding out a massive win over New York City FC at Yankee Stadium.
The headline in the starting lineup was the return of Miguel Almirón, who made his return from injury suffered last month. Meanwhile, Greg Garza was name in the starting lineup for the first time since his extended injury absence and Tito Villalba was fit enough to make the bench for the second week in a row. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Greg Garza (LB), Leandro González Pirz (CB), Michael Parkhurst (CB), Franco Escobar (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (MID), Eric Remedi (MID), Darlington Nagbe (MID), Miguel Almirón (FWD), Josef Martinez (FWD), Julian Gressel (FWD).
It was a tense, tight affair in the early stages, with both teams struggling to make space in a compact field against tight defenses. Atlanta United thought they had taken the lead 20 minutes in, and they had the ball in the back of the net. After a corner kick routine, a cross sailed from the left hand side over the goalkeeper and to the waiting Miguel Almirón, who volleyed a bouncing effort over Sean Johnson and into the net. But the referees called it back for video review, calling an offside in the buildup, and Atlanta United had to fight for the lead once again.
But battle back they did, and 17 minutes later they had the ball in the back of the net yet again –– and this one wasn’t getting called back. It came off a Julian Gressel corner kick, which found Josef Martinez open at the penalty spot. The Venezuelan’s stinging volley was stopped by Sean Johnson in the NYC goal, but Eric Remedi showed grit and hustle to get to the rebound first, powering the ball over the line for his first goal in Five Stripes.
New York City FC came back from halftime with a vengeance, knowing a loss in New York would be a big dent in their postseason hopes. But Atlanta United stayed disciplined, repelling wave after wave of attacks. Tito Villalba and Ezequiel Barco came in to bring fresh legs to the Atlanta United defensive press, and NYC had no answer for Atlanta United’s defense. Franco Escobar’s man of the match performance highlighted the win, but it was a team-wide defensive effort that kept the clean sheet to hand New York just their second home loss all season.
Atlanta United now returns to Atlanta with a one-goal cushion to face NYCFC in the second leg. More than 70,000 fans in red, black and gold will be at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, roaring the team on to what would be the team’s first appearance in the Eastern Conference finals. Tickets are still available for that one, but they’re going fast –– so make sure you get yours here.