Heat and thinner air were no problem Saturday for Atlanta United, which used goals from Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba to defeat the Colorado Rapids 3-0 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
With a game-time temperature of 91 degrees, the Five Stripes tied the MLS single-season record for road wins (9) in the post-shootout era and leads the league with 29 points earned away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta United will play again Wednesday at San Jose with a chance to break the record for road wins and tie the record for points (32), set by Seattle in 2011.
“I think we had control of the game in the first half, and then in Colorado, in Summer, at 1:30 p.m., more difficult,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said.
With its seventh shutout, Atlanta United (17-5-6) also moved to 57 points to leap over the New York Red Bulls, who have 55 points, atop the Supporters’ Shield standings. Red Bulls will play at D.C. United on Sunday.
“We will see what happens, but today we did our part,” Martino said.
Almiron was a big reason why, scoring his career-high 10th goal before adding another in the first half to give Atlanta United the cushion before Villalba notched his. Julian Gressel assisted on the first and third goals.
“There was no doubt that there was only going to be one winner today,” Gressel said.
Martino broke out a few wrinkles for the Rapids with the inclusion of Darlington Nagbe in the midfield, and the return of the 3-5-2 formation. Nagbe hasn’t played – and the 3-5-2 used as a starting formation once – since he sustained an adductor injury against Portland on June 24. The other notable wrinkle was the exclusion of Ezequiel Barco from the starting 11. The 19-year-old midfielder started the previous three games. That quick turn may have played a part in Martino’s thinking.
Atlanta United needed only 10 minutes to unlock Colorado’s defense.
Gressel ran onto a pass from Leandro Gonzalez Pirez down the right flank. He put a low cross through the penalty box, where Almiron trapped it before hammering a left-footed shot. It was Gressel’s 11th assist this season. Gressel said he thought that he hit the pass too hard.
Atlanta United increased its lead to 2-0 on another goal by Almiron, this time in the 18th minute and assisted by Josef Martinez. Martinez dribbled into the middle of the penalty box with Almiron flanking him to the left. When goalkeeper Tim Howard committed, Martinez made the simple pass to Almiron, who tapped it in. It was Martinez’s fifth assist. Almiron is one of three players this season who has scored at least 10 goals and added at least 10 assists.
“I think we have to talk more about the team and the great effort that they put in,” Almiron said. “We are going to value these three points and keep working to try and get better.”
Gressel was the giver after a pass from Almiron and Hector Villalba the receiver for a tap-in to give Atlanta United a 3-0 lead in the 37th minute. It was Villalba’s fifth goal this season and Gressel’s 12th assist. Gressel said he thought about shooting, but Villalba was in the better spot.
With such a big lead and an opponent that showed few signs of trying to get back into the game, Atlanta United didn’t need to work too hard in the second half. That also gave Martino a chance to put in Barco for Villalba in the 69th minute, preserving his legs for the next two games.
Nagbe was supposed to come off after 60-65 minutes, but played 77, completing 100 percent of his passes.
“I felt OK,” he said. “On the ball and everything felt good, physically.”
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