Thanks to VAR, two penalty conversions from Miguel Almiron, and goals from Julian Gressel, Josef Martinez and Romario Williams, Atlanta United sidestepped initial disaster to cruise to a 5-0 thrashing of the team some* (*Matt Doyle literally two games in) had already deemed the best expansion team of all-time.
The game began with a terrifying opening minute that saw a Chris McCann red card reduced to a yellow thanks to our good friends from VAR.
The Fives Stripes took advantage of the even game state in the 17th minute when Almiron pushed the ball across the mouth of the goal. Miggy missed his initial target but found Gressel trailing behind for an easy tap in.
#Gresselmania runnin' wild! pic.twitter.com/ADMMM1Gl9S— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) April 7, 2018
“Josef is always the first guy in the box so he goes to the near post,” Gressel said postgame. “I saw the whole play develop and saw the space in front of me and I figured if it comes through I’ll be there to finish it.”
After the goal Atlanta seemed content to bunker down the rest of the half. A makeshift backline missing regulars Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Greg Garza held their own and kept LAFC from putting a single shot on frame despite the visitors holding the ball for 57% of the time.
That back line — featuring Miles Robinson in his MLS debut along with Mikey Ambrose making his first start of the year — continued to hold tight to a 1-0 lead in the second half. The Atlanta attack finally rewarded them for their efforts with a two-goal lead in the 67th minute.
Gressel turned a solid day into a stellar one with a hard-charging run down the right wing that he capped with a gorgeous cross over the outstretched hands of LAFC keeper Tyler Miller and directly to the head of Martinez.
Have a day Julian Gressel! What a play to set up Josef for 2-0! pic.twitter.com/QrSjmQ66hi— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) April 7, 2018
20 minutes later, VAR — which is pure and just and good — once again came to the rescue.
After initially signaling for an Atlanta a corner on a hard tackle in the box, VAR awarded a penalty to the Five Stripes that Miguel Almiron promptly converted.
Atlanta continued to push up 3-0 and almost immediately found themselves stepping up to the spot again. Newly inserted Romario Williams earned a foul at the edge of the 18 and the subsequent Kevin Kratz freekick skipped off the hand of Chivas 2’s Joao Moutinho inside the box. Moutinho left the game with his second yellow card and Almiron once again slotted the ball into the left corner for a 4-0 lead.
Back 2️⃣ Back— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) April 7, 2018
Miggy's automatic from the spot to ice the match pic.twitter.com/KDhpqjx8Ph
Atlanta wasn’t done yet. Williams delivered one last death blow moments later in the seventh and final minute of stoppage time. It was Williams’ first MLS goal and the third in 11 minutes for the Five Stripes.
What a way to notch your first competitive goal for the club. Get in @iam_pavyrgwvii! pic.twitter.com/6hKmvym913— Dirty South Soccer (@DirtySouthSoc) April 7, 2018
“I realized I found myself in a lot of space when I received the ball. The defender in front was a couple of yards away and that’s a perfect one v. one situation. I decided to go out him and I was able to create space and get my shot.” Williams said. “It’s a great feeling. I can’t really describe my emotions. It’s a lot of hard work that’s gone into this one. I’m truly going to enjoy this one.”
Atlanta powered three goals past LAFC in the final 11 minutes of play in the 5-0 win. The lopsided scoreline came despite being out-possessed 59% to 41% and out-passed 547-373. The Five Stripes looked comfortable all night allowing LAFC to have the ball and for good reason. Atlanta allowed 16 shots but only one shot on target — a dribbler from 30 yards out. New faces Robinson and Ambrose were a big reason why.
“I thought I did pretty well. I’m happy to get the debut and I’m happy we won,” a giddy Robinson said of his first MLS start. “There were some nerves to start but when it gets down to it it’s just same old soccer. You’ve played it your whole life.”
“I thought Miles did very well,” Ambrose said. “He had that one play where he chased down Rossi and it was amazing. He was solid in the back the whole night. We interchange a lot in practice so if someone goes down the next person steps up and knows what to do. The coaches all do a great job of getting us prepared.”
Atlanta United returns to face current conference leaders NYCFC next Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. We’ll probably beat them like a billion to nothing. Seriously, we’re unstoppable.