With Atlanta United’s 2-1 win over D.C. United (and the Columbus Crew’s 2-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders), Atlanta United is now on a four-game win streak and tied with D.C. United on points, leaving the Five Stripes one spot outside the playoffs on goal differential. Goals from Josef Martinez and Marcelino Moreno combined with late game saves from Brad Guzan decided the contest and leaves Gonzalo Pineda’s Atlanta United in a strong position to potentially move into the playoff spots next week.
Interim head coach Rob Valentino put out a very similar starting lineup to the lineup he put out against Toronto FC, with Amar Sejdic stepping in for Santiago Sosa. Otherwise, Atlanta United came out to play D.C. United with a strong lineup that featured Atlanta United’s best attacking quartet of Josef Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, Marcelino Moreno, and Luiz Araujo.
#ATLUTD Starting XI vs @dcunited pic.twitter.com/cYkvvnycBy— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) August 21, 2021
The sole first-half goal came in the 25th minute after Marcelino Moreno played Josef Martinez a perfectly time ball that removed most of D.C. United’s backline from the equation. Using his strength to hold off a challenge, Josef put Atlanta 1-0 in the nation’s capital.
The ball from Marcelino— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) August 22, 2021
The strength from Josef pic.twitter.com/aNBDaxzaK8
D.C. United responded in the 53rd minute through a set piece (surprise surprise), with Yordy Reyna catching Brad Guzan off his line to equal the scoreline.
Reyna off the set piece! @DCUnited found their equalizer! pic.twitter.com/x3cdbQWEGn— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 22, 2021
Marcelino Moreno stepped up to score the game winner in the 82nd minute, slipping the ball into the far corner and past goalkeeper Jon Kempin to cap off a strong performance. The Argentine midfielder now has seven goals and three assists to his name this season, and has particularly played well during Valentino’s time as the interim head coach.
Sneaky goal from Moreno to give @ATLUTD the lead once again! pic.twitter.com/BPYSrdrCSQ— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 22, 2021
“I keep saying, theres’ nothing I can do on the field,” Valentino said. “It’s them, the players, that open up these things. It’s something inside [Moreno] that when he’s got in good areas, we talk about space to attack, he gets there and he and he’s driving. He’s got the freedom to drive at times and then he has to make decisions and we talked about what decisions he can make, what options he might have.”
Atlanta United had to see the game out after Moreno’s goal, and that meant Brad Guzan had to make an incredible reaction in the 85th minute to help Atlanta United over the finish line.
WHAT. A. SAVE. pic.twitter.com/nRLHL9NuJ1— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) August 22, 2021
“I’m excited for this not to be the end of it, that we keep going because it can’t just stop here.” Valentino said. “We’re close, but look at the realistic position that we’re in. We need to be better, we need to be higher up the table, we need to keep pushing. So a long way to go, a lot of work to go, but we’re happy for the moment that we have, we’ll make sure that we celebrate the moment that we have.”
- Rob Valentino’s tenure as Atlanta United’s interim head coach went as well as it could have, and that’s important because it means Gonzalo Pineda isn’t walking into an absolute dumpster fire when he takes charge of his first training session. Though this wasn’t a great display from Atlanta United, Valentino’s time as the team’s interim head coach has been capped off with a win.
- MLS is a beautiful thing. You can’t go from winning two league matches all season to winning four straight games and consider your season a success in most leagues. And Atlanta’s season isn’t a success (not yet, anyway). The job isn’t done yet, but Atlanta is inching closer and closer to completing the turn around and making this season different from 2020.
- Atlanta United was outplayed and probably shouldn’t have walked out of Audi Field with all three points. D.C. United took 27 (!) shots to Atlanta’s 13 and amassed 2.1 xG to Atlanta 1.1 xG. The thing is though, soccer is crazy and beautiful and sometimes the numbers don’t mean anything, and that’s the case for Atlanta tonight.
- Atlanta’s big names are finally stepping up to the plate. Josef scored the opening goal, but he also got help from Moreno, who is experiencing his best spell in Atlanta United colors. Barco’s improvement and the introduction of Araujo will only boost Atlanta’s chances of success this season. Everyone is going to have to chip in, and it seems like the weight of responsibility is spreading throughout the team.
After playing three games in seven days, Atlanta United will return to Atlanta to prepare for Gonzalo Pineda’s first match in charge against Nashville SC next Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.