NASHVILLE—First-half goals from Ezequiel Barco and Emerson Hyndman stood up as Atlanta United held on for a 2-1 win over Nashville SC in Nashville’s inaugural MLS match, in front of a crowd of 59,069—the largest to watch a soccer match in the state’s history.
After a little bit of a sloppy start, Atlanta got things going inside of the first 10 minutes. Franco Escobar chipped a nifty ball to Ezequiel Barco, and the Argentinian took his space well to slot home a beautiful goal in the far post to put the visitors up 1-0.
But Nashville leveled it through Walker Zimmerman on a set piece routine, as a free kick appeared to deflect off of the head of Josef Martinez and down to the feet of Zimmerman.
In the 37th minute, Atlanta regained the lead on a gorgeous chest-to-foot strike by Emerson Hyndman to make it 2-1—but it wasn’t without a little controversy as the leadup was flagged for offside by assistant referee Kathryn Nesbitt but overruled by referee Drew Fischer as the goal ultimately stood. That stood as the match winner despite a few chances for Nashville SC to level it, none closer than Randall Leal’s shot in the 78th minute that rang off the post.
“All I remember was taking it off the chest, hitting it best I could and thankfully it went into the top corner,” Hyndman said. “It was probably the best one I’d ever hit.”
Overshadowing the events of the match, though was an apparent right leg injury to Franco Escobar that saw him subbed off at halftime in favor of Laurence Wyke. If that wasn’t enough, Josef Martinez came off injured in the 69th minute of the seconds half moments after sustaining a right leg injury of his own.
A few recap thoughts: Let’s hope for the best
Obviously any time without Josef Martinez, or even Franco Escobar for that matter, leaves 2 significant holes in the Atlanta United roster. We won’t know each of their statuses until the team returns home, but Martinez left the stadium with crutches and an aircast while Escobar was walking without assistance but with a little bit of a limp.
“It’s next guy up,” Brad Guzan said. “Laurence (Wyke) came on and was fantastic. Adam (Jahn) came on and was fantastic. It is what it is...Our job is whoever gets called to step on the field is to make sure that one, they’re ready and two, they perform.”
“It was a shock,” Wyke said of his MLS debut. “I’m happy that I got onto the field and did a job for the team and got those three points. First game of the year, so there was a lot of stress out there, but I thought I (and) the team handled it well.”
And Frank de Boer didn’t shoot down any chances of the club looking to sign a backup striker if Josef’s injury turns out to be a long term one.
“Last year we started with (Romario) Williams and Brandon Vazquez and Josef, so we had 3, and now we have only Adam,” de Boer said. “We’re not making hasty decisions, but still, if he’s (out long) there’s a good possibility that we are looking at the market for a quick replacement.”
For Nashville’s part, de Boer spoke about Nashville’s compact defense, which made it difficult for Atlanta’s attack to get going at least in the early portion of the match.
“Nashville played really compact. It was really difficult to find a free man in the midfield. But I think we were patient,” he said. “When we were patient then suddenly we had our midfielders free and we came out well.”
At the end of the night, it’s 3 points for Atlanta United to start an MLS campaign for the first time in club history. We’ll see if its star striker and one of its key defenders will have to miss an extended period of time, and if so, how much.
Man of the Match
Emerson Hyndman. That strike after playing it off his chest. Goal of the week stuff.
FC Cincinnati at home next Saturday. 7pm kickoff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.