High Press Early
For the first fifteen minutes of Saturday’s game against the Columbus Crew SC, Atlanta United looked shaky. Playing in front of their sixth straight sell out Bobby Dodd Stadium, the team started slowly and was forced on the back foot early. Alec Kann made two giant saves in the first quarter hour to keep the game scoreless.
However, in the 16th minute Hector “Tito” Villalba gave Atlanta the lead. A tremendous bit of high pressure from Yamil Asad in the attacking third led to a bad giveaway on the top of the box from the Crew SC centerback. Villalba was more than willing to collect the ball on the top of the box and slot it home past Zach Steffen. This is the type of play fans have come to expect from Atlanta United. Martino has been committed to having his team press high up the pitch in order to create these kinds of turnovers that lead to chances in front of goal.
Crew Fire Back
Crew SC talisman Federico Higuain leveled the game twelve minutes later off some poor defending at the back. Unfortunately, while Atlanta United fans have become accustomed to slick electrifying passing and quick counterattacks, sloppy defending has also been a hallmark of United’s inaugural season.
Higuain’s goal was a product of Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst’s inability to deal with the initial cross into the box and his partner, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, switching off and not tracking the second runner into the box. LGP has come to epitomize the strengths and weaknesses of this team so far this season. He is always willing to push into the midfield and jump start attacks with pieces of brilliant passing but is all to likely to switch off defensively, giving teams a chance to capitalize.
Miggy Works More Magic
Nonetheless, LGP was able to shake off his earlier mistake and was one of the best players on the pitch in the second half. In the 67th minute, he delivered a crunching tackle on the edge of the area. He then collected the ball and calmly delivered a pass in stride to Miguel Almiron as he was streaking away on the counter. Almiron held off a defender and passed the ball into the farther bottom corner, past an outstretched Zach Steffen, to put United up 2-1.
Martino then brought on Kevin Kratz for Tito Villalba, opting for a more defensive posture to try and see the game out. Atlanta noticeably sat back and invited Crew SC pressure, while trying to break on the counter. Yamil Asad and Josef Martinez tirelessly ran the channels and held the ball up, acting as outlets by providing some much needed respite from the Columbus onslaught.
Josef Is Back!
In the 88th minute, from another spell of pressure in the Columbus defensive third, Asad (again) forced a giveaway. Kratz was able to pounce on it and slip Martinez in on goal. After being out injured since late March, Martinez immediately got back to doing what he does best, scoring goals. Yet again, Martinez was able to finish from a tight angle, blasting the ball into the roof of the net from left side of the six-yard box.
The 3-1 win over Columbus Crew SC marks Atlanta’s third win in a row in Bobby Dodd Stadium. While the goals came from all three of Atlanta’s young Designated Players, the victory can be attributed to strong performances across the board, from Alec Kann all the way up to Yamil Asad. Notably, Kevin Kratz has provided good depth in the midfield in the past two games, something that will be important with United’s congested upcoming schedule of four games in ten days.
Wednesday June 21st, Atlanta United will take on D.C. United in RFK Stadium at 7:30pm EST. Atlanta will try and avenge the 3-1 loss that came in April to D.C. at Bobby Dodd Stadium.