Atlanta United and NYC FC players walk onto the field together before the match between NYC FC and Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, on Sunday, April 15, 2018. (REANN HUBER/REANN.HUBER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Reann Huber
Photo: Reann Huber

Atlanta United draws with NYCFC

Atlanta United and NYCFC battled to a 2-2 draw on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a game filled with controversy, chippiness and dazzling plays fitting the top two teams in the MLS Eastern Conference.

Goals from Atlanta United’s Greg Garza and Chris McCann were offset by goals from NYCFC’s David Villa and Alexander Ring. Atlanta United’s Darlington Nagbe had a goal taken away after referee Allen Chapman used replay to determine that Josef Martinez committed an offside infraction.

The draw, played before 45,001, results in Atlanta United (4-1-1) remaining unbeaten in its past five games. It will fly to Los Angeles to play the Galaxy Saturday.

“When we play at home we expect to beat everybody,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. “We don’t care who it is. That being said, everybody could see the intensity, could see some of the special players that were out there, some of the special plays that were made. We can take it to everybody and compete with anybody. Just being able to do it on a consistent basis, that’s what we are striving for.”

Atlanta United opened the scoring in the 29th minute with a goal by Garza, who had only to tap-in from 3 yards out after Sean Johnson deflected a Miguel Almiron shot into his path. It was Garza’s third goal with Atlanta United. The play started in Atlanta United’s end when McCann’s attempted pass to Brad Guzan was intercepted by a New York City player. Atlanta United’s defenders hustled back and Parkhurst got possession and hit a pass up the middle of the field to start a counter attack.

NYCFC tied the game 1-1 on a penalty kick by Villa in the 38th minute. The penalty was earned by Jo Inge Berget, dangerous throughout the half, when Parkhurst tried a slide tackle because he said he wasn’t scure if Berget was going to cross or shoot. Berget did neither. Instead, he cut inside, which is why Parkhurst caught him with his trailing leg as he slid past. Berget was free down the left side after Villa cleverly backheeled a pass to Max Moaralez, who sent Berget free behind Atlanta United’s defense.

Atlanta United though it had re-taken the lead, 2-1, on Nagbe’s first goal this season. Julian Gressel found Nagbe 22 yards from goal. He one-timed a shot that NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson couldn’t have stopped. However, Chapman signaled for a review and ruled that Martinez, who was standing yards offside and directly in front of Johnson, influenced the play. The goal was disallowed.

“He could have been offside, but  I don’t think that if there were three or four goalies in the net that  they would have stopped it,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said.

Atlanta United took a 2-1 lead – this time it stayed on the board – in the 56th minute when McCann headed from seven yards out for his first goal in MLS. Almiron earned his fourth assist this season and 18th with Atlanta United. McCann said he saw the pack of players moving toward the 6-yard box, so he stayed back, which is where Almiron’s cross. He “opened me eyes for a change” and headed it into the ground and into the goal.”

Ezequiel Barco made his long-awaited debut when he came on for Kevin Kratz in the 69th minute. Barco, the most expensive transfer in MLS history with his reported $15 million fee from Independiente, suffered a quad injury the first week of the season that has prevented him from playing.

“I’m happy to get the debut, but sad with the result,” he said.

After playing Atlanta United’s half of the field for several minutes, NYCFC tied the game at 2-2 on a missle by Ring from more than 20 yards away. The ball slammed off the crossbar and into the goal in the 73rd minute. It was Ring’s first goal in MLS.

“When a guy scores a goal like that you have to hold your hands up and say a draw is probably a fair result at the end of the day,” McCann said.

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