Sometimes, a team doesn’t bring their best effort to the table during a game. But all it takes is one goal that can change the face of a match and be the difference between three points or one, maybe zero.
We saw that in Atlanta United’s 1-0 victory over Orlando City SC on Friday evening. It admittedly wasn’t a great performance by the club as they struggled in several areas tonight - most notably chance creation and set pieces. That aside, though, an incredible strike by Tito Villalba in the 86th minute - certainly a goal of the week candidate and arguably a possible goal of the year - ended up being that difference maker for Atlanta as they departed the City Beautiful with all three points and denied the Lions an opportunity to move up the table. They now sit in fourth place with 33 points and five clear of the red line with this weekend’s results pending.
The first half wasn’t extremely full of action, but it had its moments - however, neither team could get on the board. The best chance for either side may have come in the 39th minute on an on-target header off a free kick by Jonathan Spector that saw Brad Guzan make a fingertip save. Atlanta weren’t lacking for good chances themselves; they had a brilliant one courtesy of an attempt by Yamil Asad in the 41st minute that was followed by a little of a wild scramble that ended goalless.
The second half still saw both teams searching for that breakthrough goal, but Orlando came awful close as another Spector header off a free kick in the 63rd was snagged by Guzan. In the 86th minute, though, well...just watch this from Villalba for yourself.
“I didn’t imagine (I’d) score a goal like that,” Villalba said. “I received the ball and there was a player right in front of me. I turned, took a shot on goal, and that’s what happened. ”
Oddly enough, Villalba said postgame that it wasn’t even the best goal he’s scored in his career. He had a better one with Argentine side San Lorenzo, where he spent four seasons before eventually ending up stateside. “The closest thing was when we played against Racing (Club)...in my mind it was the best goal I’ve ever scored.”
“I thought we played a good first half,” Tata Martino said. “We controlled possession and we had some chances to score. We didn’t play as well in the second half...we scored a great goal, but it was out of context of how that half went.”
Martino had praise for Brad Guzan, who kept a clean sheet in his Atlanta debut - which included two huge saves on Orlando’s Jonathan Spector. “He was very good. I think he gave the team a lot of security tonight. Besides all the great saves he made tonight, he made us feel more secure.”
“It was important to go on the road and get a result”, said Guzan. “Road wins haven’t been the easiest for us to come by, so for us to come to a place like Orlando and take all three points is a good feeling.”
Atlanta take on this same Orlando City team on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. With a sellout crowd waiting to great the Five Stripes next weekend on national television (big FOX), it should be quite a match to take in.