With “Game of Thrones” among its competition on television and social media, Atlanta United proved just as ruthless as some of that show’s characters in a 3-0 victory over a depleted Sporting KC Sunday night.
Two goals from Josef Martinez around one from Ezequiel Barco were enough for the Five Stripes to win two consecutive games for the first time this season in its best performance under manager Frank de Boer. Though some of the team’s supporters missed it because they said they were going to watch the game on tape because they wanted to watch “Game of Thrones” first. The team dominated possession with 19 shots, eight on goal, against outmanned Sporting KC.
“I’m very pleased,” de Boer said. “It was a very solid performance. We created our chances. We gave almost nothing away. We were confident on the ball. This is what you want to see, of course, from our team.”
The three points pushed Atlanta United’s (3-3-2) total to 11 as it will next host Toronto (5-2-1) Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the second in a stretch of eight games in 28 days.
Facing the glut of games, de Boer made just one unusual move with his starting line for Sunday’s game: Michael Parkhurst at left fullback. It was the first time in 287 appearances in MLS that Parkhurst started at that same position, according to transfermarkt.com. He did make eight starts there with Nordsjaelland in Denmark.
De Boer said Parkhurst started at left back instead of the left-footed Brek Shea because Johnny Russell, who he said arguably Sporting KC’s best player, likes to cut inside. Doing so would put him against Parkhurst’s stronger right foot.
De Boer also chose a different tactic in the first half than it has used previously this season: it had fullbacks Parkhurst and Franco Escobar attacking up the channels to either side of Josef Martinez. Typically when they attack, they stay out very wide.
Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes also was forced to make changes because of the numerous injuries to his team, which included a bench of just five players instead of the customary seven.
At first, Atlanta United was static with its passes.
After dominating possession with 60 percent of the ball, Atlanta United finally took advantage in the 39th minute when Martinez pounced on a misplay by Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia. The sequence started with Darlington Nagbe threading a, aggressive pass down the middle to Barco. He cut loose from just outside the penalty box. Melia saved the shot, but the ball went a few yards to his right, where Martinez put it in.
“Football is like music, sometimes it’s slow,” de Boer said. “You go slow and then sometimes you surprise teams (by going fast).”
Martinez collided with Melia and stayed down for a minute or so. After Atlanta United’s trainers examined him, Martinez left the field and returned to action.
Atlanta United’s trainers were called again when Miles Robinson blocked a hard shot with his face in the 45th minute. He also returned to the game.
Atlanta United increased its lead to 2-0 on a goal from Barco in the 47th minute. He controlled a rebound about 20 yards from goal, switched the ball to his right foot and hit a curling blast into the lower left corner. It was his team-leading fourth goal.
“If you look back at it, it’s a play that started all the way at the back,” Barco said. “With a little luck, it landed right in front of me. The play was almost dead and I felt comfortable enough to take the shot.”
Martinez scored his second in the 76th minute with a right-footed shot into upper right corner from 18 yards. It was his fourth goal, moving him into a tie with Barco for the team lead.
“(It was our) most complete performance,” Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “From start to finish, I thought we were excellent. It was a professional performance. We were patient. We didn’t turn the ball over easily. We didn’t try to force passes. Goals change games and Josef (Martinez) again puts his body on the line for the first one – a great goal. His second one was even better.”
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