After three matches away from the friendly confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta United hoped to snap a two-game losing streak at the expense of Minnesota United. Behind a first-half goal by Franco Escobar and a pair of stoppage time tallies by Josef Martinez, it was able to do just that in a 3-0 win.
“Today was, for me, a very good example of we can do,” said head coach Frank de Boer. “We can do much better, but I think there were moments where we didn’t make too many mistakes, so you see that we controlled the game much better.”
Atlanta United looked like the better team for a good portion of the first half but weren’t able to make those all-important connections on the final ball. Meanwhile, Minnesota favored a conservative approach in an attempt to mitigate any damage and didn’t have a shot until Rasmus Schuller’s 33rd-minute attempt was blocked.
Atlanta finally found the first goal of the match in the 23rd minute through Franco Escobar. Julian Gressel’s pass in the box deflected off the foot of Ike Opara and fell to Escobar, who struck a nice ball far-post past a diving Vito Mannone to put Atlanta ahead.
Outside of a few Atlanta chances that didn’t connect, the second half remained quiet until a flurry of attempts for Minnesota in the 75th minute inexplicably stayed out of goal. Brad Guzan was credited with 3 saves in the most clear-cut chance of the night for the Loons.
HOLY. GUZ.— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) May 30, 2019
OUTRAGEOUS goalkeeping to keep the lead! pic.twitter.com/lnDG9kuhHO
But Atlanta iced the match as Josef Martinez finished a strong individual effort - set off by a nice run and pass by Gressel - to put his team up 2-0 in stoppage time. He added a second just moments later as a failed clearance deflected off the head of Opara and fell to the defending league MVP, who was left with a wide-open patch of turf and no one but Mannone to beat.
Josef called GAME— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) May 30, 2019
The reigning MVP makes it 2-0! pic.twitter.com/n2rlhgjcXW
“Someone told me one it’s like tennis. When you get chances you can’t get stuck up on when you miss one shot because you’re going to get another opportunity,” Martinez said. “Right now we can’t enjoy it too much because we have another difficult game coming up on Saturday.”
A player that showed well tonight was Dion Pereira. The 20-year-old played all 90 minutes in his second MLS start and showcased many of the abilities that caught the eye of his hometown club of Watford in the Premier League.
“From my perspective, he had a really good game,” said Martinez. “He came in and did what he was asked to do. As a young player, the important thing is to keep your head high and not focus too much on one thing, but to keep working hard and staying on the right path.”
“He’s maybe one of the best on our roster 1-v-1,” said de Boer. “His workrate today and in the last game (at Real Salt Lake) was tremendous. He was a threat for the opponent and I’m very pleased for him.”
And while Atlanta hasn’t necessarily lit up the scoreboard - its season total now sits at 17 through 14 matches - Martinez understands that the team’s priority is getting 3 points on a consistent basis.
“Winning 1-0, 5-0, 10-0, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s important that we won. We knew they were going to have some chances throughout the game and in the end maybe we relaxed a little bit, but in the end we were able to find those two goals.
“We can’t be happy thinking about what we did last year when we won a championship. A lot of people are still celebrating that. We can’t think like that. This team has to have the mentality that it wants to win every game.”
Atlanta hopes to do that and enter the international break on a high note as the Chicago Fire come to visit on Saturday evening. Kickoff from the Benz is set for 6 p.m. ET.