sports 3 days ago

Atlanta United 3, Columbus 1: 5 observations

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution — Doug Roberson The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

June 18--After not having much recently to smile about, even after a win on Wednesday, Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino had a simple answer when asked if he was happy following his team's 3-1 win over Columbus on Saturday at Georgia Tech.

"Si," he said through a big grin.

Goals from Hector Villalba, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez -- the team's three Designated Players -- lifted earned the team an important three points on Saturday and, depending upon Sunday's results, back into the playoff picture.

Playing their third game in eight days, the Five Stripes (6-6-3) took a 1-0 lead on Villalba's goal in the 16th minute, saw Columbus equalize on a goal by Federico Higuain in the 26th minute, and re-took the lead on Almiron's goal in the 67th minute. Martinez added another in the 88th minute.

In addition, Martino was able to sub out Julian Gressel, Almiron and Villalba, giving them some needed minutes off, and insert Josef Martinez for less than 30 minutes, ahead of Wednesday's game at D.C. United. The team is in the midst of playing eight games in 25 days.

The only bad thing was Carlos Carmona picked up his fifth yellow card, which means he is automatically suspended for Wednesday's game at D.C. United. That suspension means Jeff Larentowicz, a player Martino said he wanted to sub off on Saturday but couldn't, will likely have to start the next game.

Atlanta United was coming off rallying three times to defeat Charleston 3-2 on Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup. Columbus was defeated at Cincinnati 1-0 in the same tournament and in league play had lost six of eight games.

Martino elected to start three of the players who went all 90 minutes on Wednesday in Saturday's game against Columbus: goalkeeper Alec Kann, Larentowicz and Almiron.

Here are five observations about the game:

Defending counter-attacks. If not Alec Kann, Atlanta United should have been behind 2-0 in the opening five minutes following two excellent counter-attacks by Columbus. Chicago burned Atlanta United in its 2-0 loss last week with counter-attacks, and Vancouver also had success using that tactic in its 3-1 win over the Five Stripes.

Captain Michael Parkhurst said the team hurt itself with some poor passing early and Martnio said the issues in the opening five minutes are on the whole team, not just on the defense.

First goal. Atlanta United grew into the game and took a 1-0 lead in the 16th minute on Villalba's sixth goal this season. Pressing as he is supposed to, Yamil Asad poked the ball away from a Columbus defender Josh Williams. Villalba ran onto the ball and put a left-footed shot into the lower left corner of Zack Steffen's goal. It was Asad's team-leading eighth assist.

Villalba said Asad deserves all the credit for the goal.

Second goal. Columbus tied the game in the 26th minute when Higuain reacted first to a deflection from Michael Parkhurst. Atlanta United's back line was split by an excellent pass from the right by Harrison Afful. Parkhurst got to the ball before Ola Kamara, but couldn't control the deflection, which Higuain pounced on.

Winning the second balls has also been an issue for Atlanta United in recent week, particularly in the loss to Vancouver.

Greg Garza said he thought the deflection was a lucky break for Columbus. Parkhurst agreed, but said he should have done better.

Third goal. Atlanta United grabbed a 2-1 lead on a goal by Almiron in 67th minute. He picked up the ball near midfield and split two defenders before placing a left-footed shot into the lower right corner. It was his team-leading eighth goal this season. Almiron said he thinks he got lucky on the goal. He wasn't trying to place it perfectly.

Leandro Gonzalez Pirez earned the assist, his second of the season. He started the play with a crunching tackle in Atlanta United's penalty box. He pounced on the loose ball and put Almiron into space with a nice pass.

Martinez comes on. Martinez came on in the 62nd minute for Julian Gressel. It was Martinez's second substitute appearance in a league game since recovering from a thigh injury suffered while playing for Venezuela in March. He also started the Open Cup game, scoring a goal.

Martinez was quiet until taking a Kevin Kratz pass and slamming a left-footed shot into the roof of Steffen's net from a few yards away and a tight angle to seal the win for Atlanta United.

Odd weather. The game started as some of Atlanta United's have recently: with a weather delay.

Kick off was delayed by 22 minutes because of a lightning strike, the second time this week that has happened. The start of Wednesday's game was delayed by more than 2 1/2 hours, and a home game against Houston earlier this season was also delayed by lightning.

The team will move into Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with its retractable roof, in September.

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