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Atlanta United beats Chicago Fire in MLS home opener

A game defined by a Barco wonder goal and defensive errors at both ends of the field delivered the three points for the Five Stripes

MLS: Chicago Fire at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS season home opener against the Chicago Fire at a half capacity Mercedes-Benz Stadium ended as a 3-1 win for the Five Stripes. Ezequiel Barco scored a wonder goal in the 23rd minute to put Atlanta United on the board. The Fire found an equalizer early in the second half, but an errant goalkeeping/defending situation from the Fire and Emerson Hyndman’s close range finish late in the game secured the three points.

Look at what that last goal meant to head coach Gabriel Heinze.

If you only saw that clip of Heinze and nothing else, you’d think Atlanta United scored a last minute winner or secured passage to the later rounds of the playoffs or something along those lines. That goal came in the 85th minute, and while it wasn’t the winning goal, Hyndman’s strike finished the game off.

Jake Mulraney, who played on the right side of Atlanta’s setup, contributed to Hyndman’s goal with a piece of exquisite skill in Chicago’s penalty area.

The most impressive goal of the night came from Barco. Just ... watch.

“I fell backwards to the ground as soon as I hit it so I didn’t see it go in the net,” Barco said through a translator. “I only knew when the fans started cheering.”

You don’t need to be a soccer and/or analytics expert to know that goal was ridiculous and had a very small chance of going in. Dirty South Soccer’s Chris Smith tweeted the following:

While Barco put a spell over the ball at one end, Atlanta United saw their 100% clean sheet record evaporate after a mistake ridden opening minute in the second half.

That fumble in the back line didn’t impact Atlanta’s willingness or ability to go forward. Mulraney told media in a post match interview that last year’s group would have had crumbled after conceding such a goal. Barco shared that same sentiment.

“Last year, the team ... could have reacted like that, but I think tonight you saw that this group wants to win,” Barco said. “We went out in the second half and tried to win the game and do what the coaching staff was asking of us, and I think that just shows what this group is made of.”

Jack Gurr, who has mainly played with Atlanta United’s USL affiliate team and only recently signed a first team contract, replaced Brooks Lennon as a concussion substitute at halftime to make his MLS debut. Heinze said in a press conference that Atlanta will monitor Lennon over the next 48 hours.

Erik Lopez also made his MLS debut for Atlanta United after coming on as a late substitute for Barco.

Josef Martinez also made a substitute appearance today and looked more dangerous than he has in his previous appearances this season. Combining with fellow substitute Jurgen Damm on a few occasions, the striker was able to find scoring positions and make movements he needed to.

Here, he gave an interview with Jillian Sakovits, Kevin Egan and Mo Edu.

Atlanta United will return to the Mercedes-Benz stadium on Tuesday, April 27 at 8 p.m. to host Eastern Conference opposition Philadelphia Union in the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals. The Union lost 2-1 to Inter Miami at home Saturday night.