Atlanta United battled attrition, fatigue, and a stubbornly defensive Montreal Impact team to pull out a 2-1 win in the waning moments Saturday evening at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
It was a collective team effort to say the least, as names like Florentin Pogba, Justin Meram, Brandon Vazquez, and Dion Pereira were called on to provide substantial minutes for the Five Stripes. In the end, it was Meram’s two goals — one being a golazo of the highest order — that saw Atlanta through to victory and within three points of the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union.
The story of the first half was Atlanta’s dominance in possession — or, Montreal’s refusal to break whatsoever from it’s extremely rigid 5-4-1 defensive shape.
And to be honest, it was hard to find fault with Montreal’s tactics despite its inherent lack of ambition. It was, after all, working. Frank de Boer’s team passed the ball every which way, but found it nearly impossible to disorganize the Canadians.
The breakthrough finally came in the 35th minute through one of Atlanta United’s newest players, Justin Meram, who was acquired via trade on the last day of the MLS primary transfer window. His curling, Tito-esque golazo finally put Atlanta in front and sparked the game to life.
JUSTIN. MERAM. EVERYBODY.— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) June 29, 2019
What a way to score your first goal for #ATLUTD, @JustinMeram pic.twitter.com/sEubeIcCq1
Goals change games, and Meram’s first in Atlanta United colors certainly did. Just moments later, with Montreal looking more ambitious once they were chasing the game, Julian Gressel and Pity Martinez combined for a chance in the 39th minute, but the attempt on goal from Martinez is just wide.
Vazquez was close to adding a second for Atlanta minutes before halftime when he was played in behind into the channel. With a Montreal defender closely marking him on his back, Vazquez feinted to put the defender off balance, then touched the ball toward the end line and turned and sprinted past the defender. The cross was collected by Bush, but the moment opened eyes to what the young American striker has to offer.
Montreal struck back quickly in the second half from a corner kick. The set piece found it’s way to Montreal striker Harry Novillo on the edge of the box, whose shot deflected off center back Zakaria Diallo, leaving Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan without a chance of stopping it.
Again, goals change games, and the result of Montreal going level meant the team retreated back into its shell. While Montreal hardly threatened Atlanta’s goal with only one shot on target the entire game, it was reasonably effective in its mission to stop Atlanta United.
That is, until THE ANNEXATION OF PUERTO RICO off a corner kick in the 83rd minute when Brek Shea brilliantly faked out opposing defenders with a ... dummy shot that was actually a pass back across the face of goal for Meram to slam home from the doorstep. It was a perfectly fitting end to a less-than-thrilling but necessary win for Atlanta United.