That’s right. Atlanta United won a game of soccer. Now breathe. It’s over.
Ezequiel Barco’s brace combined with Marcelino Moreno’s penalty kick delivered all three points to Atlanta for the first time in months, and the emotion that the players and coaching staff displayed after the full time whistle is evident to what this team has been about since Rob Valentino stepped into the head coach role.
“I think it was a win that we really deserved,” Barco said through a translator. “Everyone from the players to the coaching staff, the directors, club medical staff. It’s a win that we've been searching for for a long time, so we’re really happy to get it. It goes to everyone for the effort that we’ve put in.”
Valentino made three changes from Atlanta’s 2-2 draw with CF Montreal. Miles Robinson stepped back into the starting lineup, Mattheus Rossetto replace Amar Sejdic, and Homegrown striker Jackson Conway replaced Josef Martinez, who picked up a red car last time out against Montreal.
Atlanta United came flying out of the gates, with George Bello and Ezequiel Barco combining for a slick piece of combination play to put Atlanta United up 1-0 in the 5th minute.
“I feel like me and [Barco] have always had like pretty good chemistry,” George Bello said. “ He played me, I saw him make that run ... and thankfully it went in.”
In the 35th minute, Barco converted a penalty kick that Marcelino Moreno won after dancing pas the Crew’s Jonathan Mensah and Marlon Hairston in the Crew’s penalty area.
First-half brace for Ezequiel Barco! pic.twitter.com/7hkWef5KUo— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 8, 2021
Mensah exacted his revenge just two minutes later in a move eerily similar to the last meeting between these two teams earlier this season. He headed Lucas Zelarayan’s corner kick delivery past Guzan to make it 2-1 in the 37th minute.
Atlanta United took a sucker punch from the Columbus Crew in the opening minutes of the first half, and it seemed like Atlanta had thrown away all the good work it did in the first half after conceding a goal in the 48th minute, but the referee crew deemed it offside. Barco nearly secured his hat trick in the 52nd minute, if not for an excellent save from Crew goalkeeper Eloy Room.
In the 63rd minute, Moreno earned yet another penalty area after beating Harrison Afful on the dribble. This time, he stepped up and converted it to put Atlanta 3-1 up over the reigning MLS Cup champions.
For the second time in the match, Columbus scored a goal that was ultimately waved offside in the 72nd minute. Barco won a free kick and nearly converted it in the 77th minute, but Eloy Room said no.
Columbus got a penalty of their own after Alan Franco ran through Mensah. Pedro Santos stepped up and scored past Guzan to close the deficit to one goal for the second time.
The end of the game was crazy. Anton Walkes threw his body on the line to block a shot and give Atlanta a chance of walking away with the three points for first time since May 3rd. And they did. Atlanta’s 12-game winless streak is over, and Valentino is determined to not take this win for granted.
“I’m really trying hard to enjoy this moment,” Valentino said. “I don’t do a good job with that. You get that happiness for such a short period of time then you already think like ‘Oh wait, the next game’ and you can’t be settled with it. Like I said before, it’s the culmination of this work. Don’t quit now.”
- The most important thing here is that Atlanta United won a game (obviously). At the full time whistle, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off the club's shoulders. The scenes after the full time whistle reflected that, both on the field and online among the fans. Going into the reigning MLS Cup Champions’ home stadium, putting in an exciting performance (though it was nervy and uneasy at times) and walking away with three points to show for it. I’d say that’s pretty impressive all things considered. After the last 12 games and everything that has happened during that period, this felt like a breath of fresh air.
- Atlanta United should be delighted that players that aren’t Josef Martinez have seemingly clicked and started contributing to the team’s goals. With Josef serving a suspension for his red card in the Montreal game, other players had to step up in this game. Moreno has scored three goals in the last three games and won two penalties tonight. Barco also stepped up, netting a brace Saturday night and generally playing well throughout the 90 minutes. We all know how good Josef can be, and we all know the issues that come with relying too much on one player. We’ve pretty much seen that reality over the last two years. So yeah. Pretty cool.
- The introduction of Luis Arajújo will ideally boost this team’s hopeful midseason push for a playoff spot. even more. Valentino said post match that the club is working to get Arajújo, Atlanta’s newest Designated Player, with the team ASAP. With the team getting a week to prepare for LAFC’s visit to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, that would give Arajújo a fair amount of time to train with his new teammates ahead of a big match at home.
Atlanta United will return to Atlanta and spend the next week recovering and preparing for the team’s home game against Western Conference opponent LAFC on August 15th.