Goals from Josef Martinez, his sixth this season and 25th in his MLS career, in the first half and a penalty kick from Miguel Almiron, whose speed and imagination tormented Los Angeles’ backline and midfield, were enough to ensure that Atlanta United is now unbeaten in its past six games and arguably the best team in MLS.
The performance came a week after Martino said the team had never played better at home in its 2-2 draw with NYCFC. That draw is the only blemish in the six-game streak.
"I thought defensively it was a near perfect performance from the entire team,” captain Michael Parkhurst said. “Everybody dug in and did their job. We blocked crosses, we defended in the box. Guys up top put pressure on the ball when we needed it. It was just a very, very good performance. Offensively we created enough chances to score a few more goals. If we couldn't bag that second one we had to stay strong defensively. We were able to do that and obviously we seal it late so a fantastic victory and everybody near perfect game."
Here are five observations about the victory:
Defending Ibrahimovic: The Swedish legend has already bagged two game-winning goals in three matches. Atlanta United planned to use a high line to keep him as far from the penalty box as possible, and to constantly pressure the Galaxy when it had the ball to reduce the probability of precise passes. The plan worked.
Ibrahimovic didn’t attempt a shot against Parkhurst, Jeff Larentowicz, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Chris McCann and goalkeeper Brad Guzan. It was Atlanta United’s third shutout in its past four games.
“We had chances in the first half,” Ibrahimovic said. “We had a couple of chances. Sebastian (Lletget) has a chance. Romain (Alessandrini) had a chance. Then in the second we tried to push even more but when it doesn’t go in, it doesn’t go in. It’s not like we had clear chances to be honest.”
Barco's first start: Ezequiel Barco earned his first start for Atlanta United and didn't disappoint. Slotted beside Martinez as the second striker, Barco continually found pockets of space, one of which resulted in a shot that Barco would like to try again early in the first half.
“My teammates have been doing a great job getting me involved,” he said. “The truth is I am adapting to the rhythm of the game which is hard and lucky everything is going great.”
Barco, the most expensive transfer in MLS history with a reported transfer fee of $15 million, made his debut in the previous week’s draw with NYCFC. A quad injury forced him to miss the season’s first five games.
What Barco's performance means: Like Almiron, Barco is a speedster with an almost magnetic dribbling ability. With Darlington Nagbe, another great dribbler, moving up and down the middle, and Almiron popping up wherever he wanted and carrying the ball forward, Barco was yet another threat for the Galaxy's midfielders and backline to worry about. Oh, and there's also Martinez.
“He played very well to be honest, I thought he played very well,” Martino said of Barco. “He was very precise, very good with his movements. I thought he was combining well with Miguel (Almiron) and Josef (Martinez) and we just had to take him off because I thought he was looking tired.”
It will be interesting to see who starts beside Martinez when Hector Villalba returns from his hamstring strain. Villalba is probably the fastest player on the team, but his dribbling isn’t as consistent as Barco’s. Villalba is a proven goal-scorer in MLS, though.
The first goal: The first goal came after a remarkable stretch in which Atlanta United hit a post three times in less than two minutes.
First, Martinez missed a penalty kick when his shot hit the left post.
Almiron was next with a shot from the left that pinged off the crossbar.
Gressel was next with another crossbar-seeker from the right. But Martinez was there to pounce on the rebound.
"It was important because I had just missed the penalty,” Martinez said. “I didn't have luck go my way on the penalty but then I was able to be in the right place to convert but more than anything just happy to help out the team. Happy to help us get this important victory on the road which is what we wanted."
The second goal: Almiron's capper came after Kevin Kratz ran onto a loose ball near midfield. Almiron crossed the defense from the left to right, and Romario Williams, a late sub, moved into the space on the left. Kratz chose Williams, who appeared as if he was about to take a shot with his left. Instead, he cut back, forcing a foul in the penalty box. Almiron converted for his fourth goal this season.