Atlanta United defeated Toronto FC 1-0 in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium Wednesday night thanks to a first half Ezequiel Barco goal. The performance itself wasn’t great, but the result means Atlanta United now has three wins on the bounce and back-to-back MLS clean sheets for the first time since Oct. 3-7, 2020.
“In this league it’s important to win games like that,” said interim head coach Rob Valentino. “For me, it’s important that you win at home. I told [the players] before the game I think you have to win at home. We’ve got a lot of home games and we’ve got to continue to win at home. It’s important to the fans, it’s important to us. I think you have to make this place as close to what it was before.”
In the buildup to the match, all of the talk around Atlanta United’s starting lineup was about how Rob Valentino would deploy Luiz Araujo into the starting XI, and what that would mean for the team’s shape and for other players in the lineup. Valentino opted to keep the same shape (three center backs, two wingbacks, two midfielders, and a front three), though Araujo’s inclusion made the shape a bit more fluid with Santiago Sosa mostly sitting in front of the back three on his own while Araujo, Ezequiel Barco, Josef Martinez, and Marcelino Moreno attempted to break Toronto as a front four.
#ATLUTD Starting XI vs @TorontoFC pic.twitter.com/mrHLKGF5K5— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) August 18, 2021
The opening 15 minutes weren’t exactly exciting. There were a couple of moments of that highlighted what kind of player Araujo is, there was a lot of possession, and not much else. Then in the 20th minute, Brooks Lennon played in Ezequiel Barco, who put Atlanta United up over Toronto with a deflected shot from the top corner of Toronto’s penalty area.
BARCO!— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 18, 2021
Whatta finish to give @ATLUTD the lead! pic.twitter.com/zFJ3DSvfoj
That’s four goals on the season for Barco, a new season record for the Argentine.
There were a few other positive moments throughout the first match, and most of them involved Araujo. In fact, his first touch in Atlanta United colors was just a preview of what he did against Toronto throughout the first half. His quality on the ball allowed Atlanta United to get out of tight spots, and he also sparked a few entertaining chances/good moves.
How about that for your first touch pic.twitter.com/bxvQXYcina— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) August 18, 2021
I was going to use some xG numbers here to talk about how Atlanta United didn’t attack Toronto in the first half the way the Five Stripes could have considering Toronto’s weakened starting lineup and conservative approach to the first half, but Josef’s scorpion kick apparently had a higher chance of going in than Barco’s goal did, so I’m NOT going to use xG numbers here (not a perfect system I guess.) But all things considered, Atlanta should have done more in the first half.
That was highlighted in the opening stages of the second half. Atlanta came out of the locker room looking sluggish and uncomfortable on the ball, and that was exacerbated when Toronto manager Javier Perez brought on Alejandro Pozuelo, Jefferson Soltedo, Kamar Lawrence in the 52nd minute.
There were a handful of frantic moments for Atlanta throughout the second half. Too many to count. Atlanta saw it out, but Toronto made sure it was never comfortable.
“We didn’t play well but we were able to win,” Barco said. “We’re playing good teams that make it difficult for us to play.”
- Atlanta outpossesed, outshot, outscored, and beat Toronto. While a win is a win, which is what I said after the LAFC game, this game didn’t have the same good vibes as Saturday. Atlanta didn’t look particularly threatening throughout most of the match, and even looked rather sloppy and unsure during various moments.
- I thought the team’s setup worked, though mostly just in the first half. Utilizing Moreno, Barco, Josef, and Araujo while maintaining the team’s defensive solidity is a tough ask, which is perhaps why Valentino subbed out Sosa around the 60th minute. In the end Atlanta United got the win, but playing with a lone defensive six in a back-three system feels rather dangerous, and Toronto exposed Atlanta United on a couple of different occasions.
- Luiz Araujo is what we at Dirty South Soccer like to call a Dude. As a Dude, he made things happen (and make it look pretty as he was doing it). That was probably to be expected considering he came from the Lille, the reigning French champions who recently beat Paris Saint Germain, but this was the first time any of us got to see the Brazilian play in the flesh. His quality on the ball was apparent and as he becomes more integrated into the team, we should eventually see the best of what he has to offer once he and his teammates become more acclimated to each other. It was a solid debut to say the least. Clearly the home support liked what they say from the team’s newest signing.
Listen to that reception for Luiz Araújo ‼️ pic.twitter.com/0BR3xtMqXa— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) August 19, 2021
Atlanta United will travel to Washington D.C. to play D.C. United on Saturday at 8 p.m. Though we expected Gonzalo Pineda to come in and fulfill his role as head coach, Doug Roberson reported on Wednesday that Valentino will coach the Five Stripes once more this upcoming weekend.