It was a double dose of satisfaction for Atlanta United in a 2-0 win against Columbus Crew SC. Not only did they pick up their first away victory since a 3-1 result over Real Salt Lake on April 22, they recorded back-to-back clean sheets for the first time since March 18 and 31 against the Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders. It wasn’t the most exciting soccer game, but Atlanta will take it as they pick up an important three points on the road to leapfrog Crew SC for fifth in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Five Stripes were first to find the scoreboard in the 27th minute. An Alec Kann long clearance found its way to Tito Villalba off a miscue by Jonathan Mensah, who fought through the pressure and slotted it for his seventh goal. It could have been 2-0 if not for Josef Martinez missing on an absolute perfect chance with only Zack Steffen to beat in the 36th minute. Another missed opportunity came in the 60th minute as Atlanta were able to regain possession nicely in Columbus’ attacking third and develop a counter that ended with a mishit by Villalba that would have given him a brace.
Would the unconverted chances end up dooming Atlanta? As it turns out, that wouldn’t be the case thanks to Villalba redeeming himself in the 64th. Miguel Almiron’s chip toward net went toward Josef Martinez and deflected enough off a Crew SC’s head to find the foot the Argentinian, whose perfect touch went past Steffen to double the margin and effectively end the match. Atlanta’s defense, thanks to a few Columbus miscues and despite a few nervy moments down the stretch, saw the game out and helped them break a run of form on the road during which they managed just a single point out of a possible 15 before tonight.
This was a critical match to win for Atlanta ahead of the international break. Not only do they move up the standings (four clear of the New York Red Bulls and the red line as things stand now, with one more game played and a large edge on goal differential in their favor), but it gives them a shot of confidence moving forward when it comes to away matches. With their pointless streak having ended, the pressure will likely not be as heavy over their next few road games. But they take on the San Jose Earthquakes at 7pm (there will be fireworks after, and it will be on FOX Sports South, not Southwest. Just FYI) in a match that they must win to keep their great home form intact and to potentially position themselves even better in the standings.