Goals from Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba, as well as a record-setting crowd, lifted Atlanta United to a 3-1 win over D.C. United on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Five Stripes looked a much different team than last week in a 4-0 loss at Houston in which the team had no energy and made too many individual mistakes, many of which resulted in goals.
Part of the difference was playing with more intensity combined with a formation switch from a 4-3-3 that team used most of last season and last week to a 3-5-2. Manager Gerardo Martino said the change gave the team more players in the midfield and gave Martinez and Villalba, deployed as dual strikers and Almiron and Darlington Nagbe, used as attacking midfielders, room to maneuver on offense.
That freedom resulted in that quartet accounting for the goals and four of the six credited assists.
“It was important and interesting to see the response from the team,” Martino said. “We knew (commitment) was going to be important coming off that game in Houston where we made a lot of mistakes.”
Another difference was the crowd.
Atlanta United broke its MLS single-game attendance record with 72,035 tickets sold and distributed. Atlanta United set the league single-game record of 71,874 against Toronto on Oct. 22, 2017. That mark broke the record of 70,425 it set against Orlando City on Sept. 16.
“When that second goal goes in and you look at them, you can really see it,” Jeff Larentowicz said. “The crowd’s incredible. It’s always good to be in front of them. To continue to break records is really astonishing for us.”
Atlanta United opened the scoring in the 24th minute on a goal by Martinez, who only needed to put his foot on a perfect cross from Villalba. He picked up the ball on a pass from Nagbe, dribbled a few yards and then put a pass between Steve Birnbaum’s legs and to a spot just ahead of goalkeeper David Ousted for Martinez to run onto for his 20th goal in MLS. Villalba said all he and Martinez need are eye contact to know where the other is going.
“When we have opportunities in training, we always talk about what to do when he has the ball in that position,” Martinez said. “I always run (toward the goal).”
Almiron scored his in the 73rd minute from 18 yards out on an assist by Julian Gressel and Villalba.
“I think we had patience, we knew how to control the game and thanks to God we were able to find a goal quickly,” Almiron said.
Villalba’s goal came a few minutes later on a header off a corner kick and was assisted by Almiron and Greg Garza.
Villalba said his goal is a play that the team works on. Had he not headed it, he said Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was right behind him. The idea is to head it toward the back post for someone to run onto. It just so happens he hit the header a little harder than usual.
D.C. United’s goal was scored by Darren Mattocks in the 86th minute.
Atlanta United (1-1-0) will next host Vancouver on March 17.
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