Coming off a tough West Coast road trip and dealing with a long injury list, Atlanta United faced a tough challenge in a visiting Houston Dynamo. But they stood tall with one of their standout performances of the season, putting up five goals on a shorthanded Dynamo side to come out big winners.
Head coach Frank de Boer was forced into a few changes with a few missing names in the lineup. Franco Escobar was held out with suspension due to yellow card accumulation with Pity Martínez was given the night off to rest. The full XI: Brad Guzan (GK), Michael Parkhurst (LB), Leandro González Pirez (CB), Miles Robinson (CB), Julian Gressel (RB), Jeff Larentowicz (CM), Darlington Nagbe (CM), Emerson Hyndman (CM), Dion Pereira (LW), Josef Martinez (ST), Brandon Vazquez (RW).
The first incident came just minutes into the match, and it changed the ensuing 90 minutes. After a tight opening stretch in which both teams had chances to score, Dynamo star Alberth Elis received two yellow cards in quick succession, bringing Houston down to 10 men for more than 80 minutes. Atlanta United took quick advantage. First in the 27th minute, Emerson Hyndman burst into space at the top of the box and laid it to Julian Gressel cutting down the right wing, who cut it back to Darlington Nagbe to curl in his first goal as an Atlanta United player.
The crowd was still celebrating the first when the second goal came less than two minutes later. It was Hyndman who started it again, combining with Dion Pereira with beautiful one-touch passing in the box, and Pereira showed some nifty feet and lobbed it just out of reach of the Houston goalkeeper for Brandon Vazquez to head into the open net.
Atlanta United took the two-goal lead into the half, but Josef Martinez was ready to take over the second period. Less than 15 minutes into the second half, Julian Gressel –– who was relentless with his pressure and crossing on the right –– lobbed in a beautiful curling cross into the path of Josef Martinez, who leapt over his defender and took the contact from the goalkeeper, but kept his nerve to head home.
20 minutes later and it was Josef again, cutting into the seam between the Houston defenders, with Eric Remedi’s incisive ball finding him in stride. Josef danced through the box, leaving the defender and goalkeeper on the ground before smashing in his third brace in four matches.
But there was one more exclamation point on the performance, and it came from Julian Gressel. It started with Josef Martinez finding space again behind the defense, only this time he pulled it back and played in his teammates across the box. The Houston defender got a toe to it but could only poke it into the path of Julian Gressel’s whose powerful effort was too hot for the Houston goalkeeper to handle.
It was an emphatic performance for the Five Stripes that lifted them into second place in the Eastern Conference at the time of the final whistle – only three points off the lead with a match still in hand. There’s no time to celebrate, with another home match coming up this weekend –– this time against Wayne Rooney and D.C. United in a clash of two of the top teams in the East. Tickets to that match are still available, so make sure you’ve reserved yours here.