Emerson Hyndman took the pass, looked up and found Dion Pereria. He spun his defender and played a pass that, after a deflection, was headed into the goal by Brandon Vazquez.
It was a great team goal crafted by three of Atlanta United’s youngest starters in Wednesday’s 5-0 win against Houston at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Hyndman, 23, was making his first MLS start since moving on a loan from Bournemouth to Atlanta United. Playing as a central midfielder, he consistently found pockets of space across the field against Houston. Though he wasn’t credited with an assist on Vazquez’s goal, he was given an assist on Darlington Nagbe’s opener.
“I love when people are knocking at the door and want to be involved in the team, and he’s certainly knocking,” manager Frank de Boer said. “I’m pleased with his performance, and I think still he can do better, and I think this is a good start for him. If he can contribute more, but that counts for everybody, but I’m happy with his performance.”
Pereira, 20, was very dangerous, frequently beating the defender to put in crosses or make another defender slide over to help, which created space for other Atlanta United players to move into. He showed his strength and speed on a run near the 38th minute when he took a Houston corner kick and went some 70 yards with one Houston defender constantly on his back and another trying to close him down.
“I think still he can be stronger, but he’s still young,” de Boer said. “These kinds of games are good for him to get in the rhythm and understand the game, and what we expect from him. I think he can look back at a good performance, it’s good that he’s showing his quality. I think he can still do much better, especially physically. If I see his body, he has so much to gain, and he knows that I want it from him, and he’s really working hard for it, and that’s paid off for right now.”
Vazquez, 20, has been a revelation since scoring four goals in Atlanta United’s first two games in the U.S. Open Cup. Playing as a second striker underneath or beside Josef Martinez on Wednesday, Vazquez consistently dropped back, received passes and then played them back into wide spaces for Periera and Julian Gressel to exploit.
Houston’s defenders tried to body Vazquez, but he’s so big that the attempts were frequently unsuccessful. His movement and the threat of his size and aerial ability also created space for Martinez.
And Vazquez’s effort on defense, from creating a turnover in the first seconds, didn’t go unnoticed.
“Brandon (Vazquez) was very good in terms of his ability to close their players down and make it hard on them to find the next pass,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said.