Good start: One down, seven to go for Atlanta United in important stretch of games

Credit: Steve Sanders

Credit: Steve Sanders

In the visitor’s locker room at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst told his teammates that it was very important that the pending stretch of eight games in 28 days start with a confidence-building performance against Sporting KC.

A win, and the month could fly by with points a plenty.

A loss, and the month could drag with a continued stay near the bottom of the standings.

Atlanta United listened, putting together a dominating performance in dispatching Sporting KC 3-0 on Sunday behind a brace from Josef Martinez and a goal from Ezequiel Barco.

It is the first in a set of games that continues with home games against Toronto on Wednesday and Orlando on Sunday as Atlanta United (3-3-2) tries to climb the table in the Eastern Conference.  The stretch also includes home games against Minnesota and Chicago, and road games against Vancouver, New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake.

“Hopefully it flies by,” Parkhurst said.

Atlanta United controlled almost every aspect of the game against a Sporting KC team so depleted by injuries that it couldn’t field seven healthy players to fill out its bench.

The Five Stripes dominated possession with more than 55 percent of the ball, took more shots (19-10), shots on goal (8-3) and won more duels (45-39). But the stats aren’t the whole story. Players made off-the-ball runs. Josef Martinez, Barco and Pity Martinez tracked back and played defense. The fullbacks pushed forward. The team looked like it was having fun. Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said that it was the most complete performance his team has played in MLS this season.

“Obviously it hadn’t been going well at the beginning, but you’re seeing the work we put in week in and week out,” Barco said. “Luckily, we got three points today and we just have to keep going in that direction.”

The stretch of games is important because Atlanta United has three games in hand on Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia, which has 20 points. If the Five Stripes win those games, they will keep pace with the Union and show their early season struggles won’t impact their ability to defend the MLS Cup.

Getting off to a good start with not only a win, but a dominating performance, could be key to gaining those points. There will be challenges. The team will be without Barco and fullback George Bello, and is waiting on a few other injured players to recover.

“When you play a lot of games like this back to back in a row it’s important to get off to a good start,” Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “But, also for the confidence going into the other games, when you play well as we did tonight, you’re ready for the next one.

“Mentally, it becomes easier to play that amount of games in that amount of time. It’s a good start. It doesn’t mean we’re the best team in the league. It doesn’t mean everything you guys are going to write. It means that we’ve had a good start to this set of games, and we’ve got to keep going.”

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