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Recap: Atlanta United Thumps SKC 3-0

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WHAT YEAR IS IT???

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Sporting Kansas City Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United eviscerated Sporting Kansas City in a 3-0 shellacking led by a Josef Martinez brace and an out of this world performance from Ezequiel Barco.

The things that happened in the game that was played

At first nothing. But then a few things. And slowly more things. And then...

JOSSSSSSSSEEEEEEEEFFFFFFFFF

(and mostly, Zeke. but Josef got the job done.)

Atlanta pieced together a decent collection of chances before the break. The Five Stripes took a 1-0 lead into the half.

It wouldn’t stay 1-0 for long.

After Barco’s stunner, Atlanta continued to control the game. The let-up never came. At least not until after this...

Five Stripes is hell.

A Recap Thought: Run the damn ball.

A major theme at the beginning of Frank de Boer’s time as manager has been hesitancy in attack. Atlanta United has often looked like kids at a middle school dance: They want to get out there and have fun, but if they leave this exact spot they might die immediately oh my god oh my god is Jessie looking at me oh my god.

There’s the somewhat obvious hesitancy to play incisive forward passes that has become the complaint of choice for much of the fan base, but there’s also been a hesitancy for players to leave the comfort of their assigned positioning to carry the ball forward and into space. And there has been space. It’s the same space Miguel Almiron regularly took advantage of and a reason the Five Stripes have so dearly missed the Paraguayan. But a new system and new pieces have contributed to a creatively stifled attack, largely out of fear. This team felt so afraid of making a mistake by running forward or pulling a long shot and potentially being out of position, that they were content to play the all possession, no substance style we’d seen through the first two months of the season.

Tonight, led by bust turned budding superstar Ezequiel Barco, the Five Stripes began to look comfortable charging ahead with the ball at their feet and disrupting the Sporting back line. Seriously, I can’t stress how important and how quality Zeke was tonight. Late in the second half, something began to click for him — and to a somewhat lesser extent, Julian Gressel — and the Atlanta United we had been waiting for showed up and began throwing haymakers. Like they had been fighting left-handed this entire time and finally decided to switch.

The first goal comes from Zeke’s run, the second opened up Kansas City even further, Atlanta began to find acres of space in behind and on the wings against Sporting, and then another run from Barco set up Josef for his second goal of the night. All this to say that the final 60 minutes of this one looked awful familiar to an Atlanta United match circa 2018.

There is, of course, the caveat that Sporting came to play ball tonight. The bunker we’ve come so accustomed to seeing never appeared. There is the similar caveat that the first thirty minutes or so of this game were...kind of bad. But there are lessons and, most importantly, plenty of confidence to be taken from tonight. If Atlanta can continue the upward trend they’ve cultivated over the last few weeks, the rest of the league will suddenly be on high alert. Heck, there’s a chance they already are.

And then, finally, there’s this: For the first time all year the actual victory outweighed the moral ones.

Feels good, y’all.

DSS Man of the Match

Little. Boat.

My goodness, Ezequiel went off tonight. I can’t write more positive things. I’m out of positive things. Let’s not talk about him leaving for like six weeks for the U-20 World Cup in a few days. Seriously, please don’t bring it up. Absolutely do not talk about how it could kill all the momentum this team has built over the last month. Please. Stop.

Larentowicz Man of the Match (Your unsung hero(es))

The Captain.

Michael Parkhurst continues to take every single change in stride. Parky could have bristled at the rise of Miles Robinson but has instead found other ways to contribute. He wasn’t perfect tonight but he predictably got the job done at left back. That’s all we can ask from him.

Tweet of the Night

What’s Next?

Back to the Benz as the last two MLS champs meet for midweek match. Atlanta and Toronto are set to kick off at 7 p.m. EST.