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Atlanta United comes back to beat Inter Miami in late-season Eastern Conference clash

Most important win of the season

MLS: Inter Miami CF at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United rallied against a first half Gonzalo Higuain penalty kick goal to win 2-1 in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday, keeping the Five Stripes above the playoff line with three games left to play in the regular season.

The Lineup

Gonzalo Pineda rolled out a familiar starting lineup that saw Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco return to the starting lineup after last week’s 1-1 loss draw with NYCFC. Marcelino Moreno was relegated to the bench, and Franco Ibarra stepped in to replace the unfit Santiago Sosa, who picked up a knock against NYCFC.

Around the 30th minute, some chaos erupted on the field. George Bello went down in the Inter Miami penalty area, the ball made its way to Atlanta’s penalty area, and the center referee awards=ed Miami a penalty kick after consulting the video monitor to examine Brad Guzan’s attempt to “win the ball” off of Miami’s Lewis Morgan. In the 32 minute, Gonzalo Higuain sent Brad Guzan the wrong way on a penalty kick to make it 1-0 to the visiting team.

After a tepid and unenthusiastic first half, Pineda replaced Anton Walkes with Marcelino Moreno and moved the team to a back four. In the end, it worked.

Luiz Araújo got Atlanta United on the scoresheet and scored perhaps the most important goal of the season so far in the 59th minute. The Brazilian’s free kick made its way through the wall and past Miami goalkeeper Nick Marsman.

Atlanta United upped the intensity after Araújo’s goal, and Atlanta thought that paid off when Josef Martinez headed home a cross past Marsman. The assistant referee waived the goal offside, but Atlanta continued to chip away until another chance came. This time, Josef was onside, and Atlanta took the lead in the 73rd minute.

That goal was a necessity for Josef (and not just because the team needed to score to earn three important points). Josef didn’t do much of anything for the vast majority of the match, but then he pulled off a moment of quality when his team needed him to the most. We shouldn't be surprised about that, but it was still a clutch moment from the Venezuelan.

But the game wasn’t over yet. In the 88th minute, Brad Guzan made an impeccable save to prevent a repeat of the NYCFC result, and that wasn’t the only important save he made on the night. The American goalkeeper finished the match with five saves on 2.35 xGA (expected goals conceded) and was crucial in the Five Stripes win.

And, of course, Leandro Gonzales-Pirez earned a yellow card against Atlanta, marking his 14th yellow card of the season and tying the MLS record for most yellow cards in a single season by one player. Classic.

Results around the Eastern Conference

It’s the time of season where I include other results from around the league, and you’re just going to have to accept that. Anyways:

Columbus managed to take down Orlando 3-2, D.C. defeated Red Bull 1-0, NYCFC triumphed over Chicago 1-0, Philadelphia and Toronto played to a 2-2 draw, and Nashville came back against Cincinnati to win checks notes 6-3. Cool. All of those results means that Atlanta United finished the night in 6th place, two points above the Eastern Conference playoff line.

Atlanta United will play its final home regular season match against basement-dweller Toronto FC this Saturday.