Atlanta United crushes LAFC

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

With goals from Julian Gressel, Josef Martinez, two penalty kicks from Miguel Almiron and a long strike by Romario Williams, Atlanta United won its fourth consecutive game by dispatching LAFC 5-0 on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Despite playing with a patchwork defense because of the absence of several starters to injuries or suspension, Atlanta United (4-1-0) notched its second consecutive shutout. Like in last week’s 1-0 win at Minnesota United, the Five Stripes weren’t tested too seriously on defense.

The victory improves Atlanta United to 3-0 at home after Gressel’s strike in the first half and Martinez’s in the second half. More than 45,000 tickets were sold and distributed.

Atlanta United will host unbeaten NYCFC on April 15.

Atlanta United’s back line was without three of its five starters. Greg Garza suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s win that prevented him from playing. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez received two yellow cards against the Loons and therefore was suspended. Franco Escobar is still recovering from a concussion sustained three weeks ago in the win against Vancouver.

In their place, manager Gerardo Martino handed centerback Miles Robinson his first league start since being selected with the No. 2 pick in last year’s SuperDraft. Additionally, Chris McCann started at centerback alongside Michael Parkhurst. Mikey Ambrose made his first start this season in place of Garza at left wingback.

As if all that wasn’t tough enough, McCann was given a red card in the first minute for a tackle of Benny Feilhaber. McCann and Feilhaber were closing on the ball at the same time. As they approached, McCann appeared to slip, which upended Feilhaber, sending him into the air.

McCann and Atlanta United were spared after referee Ted Unkel reviewed the play using VAR. After a very short review, Unkel brought back McCann back onto the field and changed the red card to a yellow card. Atlanta United played with 10 men for more than 60 minutes in last week’s win.

Atlanta United grabbed a 1-0 lead 16 minutes later when Michael Parkhurst pounced on a poor clearance by LAFC. The captain took a dribble before sending Miguel Almiron loose with a short pass down the left. Almiron’s cross sizzled across the goal. Josef Martinez just missed tapping it in with a sliding effort. Gressel didn’t miss with an easy shot into the open goal. It was Gressel’s first goal this season and sixth in his MLS career. It was the fifth assist of Parkhurst’s career.

Atlanta United increased its lead to 2-0 when Kevin Kratz, on for Hector Villalba, sent Gressel down the right side with a long pass. Gressel crossed the ball to Martinez for the easy header. It was Kratz’s first assist this season, the third for Gressel and Martinez’s fifth goal.

The lead grew to 3-0 in the 88th minute after Lawrenceville’s Walker Zimmerman tackled Almiron in the box. Unkel again used VAR and again the replay favored Atlanta United. He converted the penalty.

Almiron made it 4-0 with another penalty kick in added time after Joao Moutinho picked up two quick yellow cards. Almiron converted the penalty kick again for his third goal this season and 12th of his MLS career.