Hector Villalba’s goal in injury time lifted Atlanta United to a 1-1 tie with Orlando City on Saturday in the send-off for Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium.
It was Villalba’s second goal against Orlando City in as many games after he won last week’s game with a 25-yard missile in the 86th minute. Villalba leads Atlanta United with 10 goals this season.
Orlando City thought it was leaving with all three points after Kaka’s swerving, seeing-eye shot in the first half.
But Miguel Almiron and Yamil Asas connected to send Villalba through on goal and past Joe Bendik in a game that was chippy with several yellow cards, some pushing and shoving and lots of cursing from Atlanta United’s fans. In all, it did feel like a rivalry, even it if was just the second game ever played between the two teams.
The tie snapped Atlanta United’s four-game winning-streak as MLS heads into a short All-Star break. Atlanta United remains in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 34 points, but there are more games Saturday. The Five Stripes (10-7-4) will resume league play at Sporting KC on Aug. 6.
Just like in last week’s 1-0 win by Atlanta United over Orlando City, it looked like a piece of individual skill was going to decide the outcome.
And that skill wasn’t from either Orlando City’s Dom Dwyer, who was acquired in a trade from Sporting KC earlier in the week, or Cyle Larin. The duo, who have 13 goals this season and 96 in their MLS careers, started as forwards in a 4-4-2 formation.
Instead, the piece of skill came from the player that Atlanta United’s players said they were most concerned about: Kaka.
The league’s highest-paid player with a salary of more than $7 million, Kaka proved those concerns accurate in the 40th minute with a brilliant 25-yard shot that swerved around an Atlanta United player and into the upper right corner of Brad Guzan’s goal.
The goal came just seconds after Almiron hit the post for the second time in the game, and Villalba put the second off-the-post rebound into the side netting. The ensuing goal kick was knocked down by Larin to the onrushing Kaka.
It wasn’t the way that Atlanta United’s players or the sellout crowd wanted to leave their temporary home.
This was supposed to Atlanta United’s first game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is in the final stages of construction. Instead, it was the team’s final at Grant Field, whose first concrete stands were built in 1913.
Still, Bobby Dodd Stadium, home of Grant Field, treated Atlanta United well. The team sold out nine consecutive games with more than 415,000 in announced attendance. It has the highest average attendance for home games in MLS. Of most importance, it will leave with a record of 6-2-1.
Atlanta United’s first game at the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium will come Sept. 10 against Dallas. In all but two of its remaining eight home games, the team will cap attendance at 42,500.
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