A stop and start beginning of the season and some underwhelming results had Atlanta United in an unfamiliar position heading into the final weekend in May: looking up at the rest of the Eastern Conference in the standings. But a fixture-packed month gave them an opportunity with plenty of points on the table –– they just had to go out there and earn them. And that they did, racking up six wins to put them within striking distance of the Eastern Conference lead with matches in hand. Here are the key moments that fueled their rise up the table:
Darlington’s Dribble vs Colorado
Coming off a disappointing loss the week prior, Atlanta United needed to take advantage of their home field and get a win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against an improved Colorado Rapids to start their climb up the East. The Rapids played stubborn defense all game, and Atlanta United was struggling to break through a packed-in defense. But Darlington Nagbe took it upon himself to create a spark of brilliance, using a signature shoulder shrug to ghost past the Colorado defender and in toward the end line. His cross found a perfectly-timed run from Julian Gressel, who forced it over the line amidst a crowd of Colorado defenders. It was the deciding goal in a match that Atlanta United just needed to win in order to start their upward momentum.
Another Barco Stunner
Atlanta United needed more than a win versus Colorado, they needed to spark a winning streak. To do that they needed a result on the road against a Sporting Kansas City side that has consistently been a thorn in their side. Josef Martinez showed his predatory instincts to pounce on a rebound and finish the opening goal, but Sporting were starting to show signs they could claw their way back into the game with an equalizer. Ezequiel Barco continued his red-hot form and slammed the door shut on the game, picking up a loose ball just outside the box and smashing a low, powerful shot that would double the lead and put the match to bed.
Pity Goes Crazy in a Rivalry Match
Pity Martínez made a name for himself in Argentina for coming up with big moments in rivalry mentions –– namely against Boca Juniors for his club River Plate. So it was only fitting his first goal for Atlanta United came against the club’s neighbors to the south, Orlando City. It was a beautiful counterattack, with Tito Villalba bursting into space and laying off for Pity smash it inside the far post –– and it would be all Atlanta United would need to keep their winning streak over Orlando City alive.
Guzan Stands On His Head
Brad Guzan and the Atlanta United defense put up a historic month, with their streak of consecutive clean sheet victories setting a new record in MLS. But nothing typified Atlanta United’s #1 tenacious month than this incredible moment versus Minnesota United. The Loons were pushing for a second-half equalizer at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and they thought. They had it, only for Brad Guzan to pull off a miraculous save to keep the ball from going over the line. It was a crucial save at a crucial time –– and would all but clinch three crucial home points.
Putting Out the Fire
Atlanta United could already claim a successful month after churning through eight matches in May, but ending the stretch with two wins at Mercedes-Benz Stadium would take that month to another level. The Five Stripes showed they meant business early in this one, and it was a full-field counterattack that sealed the winner over the Fire. Guzan fed Franco Escobar down the right wing, who had some nifty one-touch passing play with Pity Martinez that pushed the Argentine into space at the top of the box. Pity’s pass in to Josef took out the entire Fire defense, and Josef slotted home ruthlessly for the match-winner.
As the league enters the Gold Cup break, Atlanta United sits just five points off the top of the table, with two matches in hand over the leaders –– meaning they control their destiny to be back on top at this unofficial midway point of the season. They’ll continue their fight on the road in Toronto on June 26th, before returning to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face the Montreal Impact on June 29th. Tickets to that match are going fast, so make sure you’ve reserved yours here.