Late goal lifts Atlanta United past Chicago in dramatic fashion

Atlanta United forward Giorgos Giakoumakis celebrates after a goal during the first half of the match against Chicago Fire FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Sunday April 23, 2023. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Atlanta United)

Credit: Brandon Magnus/Atlanta United

Credit: Brandon Magnus/Atlanta United

Atlanta United forward Giorgos Giakoumakis celebrates after a goal during the first half of the match against Chicago Fire FC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Sunday April 23, 2023. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Atlanta United)

An accidental own-goal forced by JuanJo Purata in the ninth minute of stoppage time lifted a sloppy Atlanta United past Chicago 2-1 on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The ball bounced off Purata’s knee, off Chicago’s Maren Haile-Selassie’s back and in to keep Atlanta United (5-1-3) unbeaten at home (4-0-1) and on pace with the leaders in the Eastern Conference. It was the latest goal in team history by five seconds. Purata admitted afterward the didn’t know much about the winner.

Giorgos Giakoumakis’s fifth goal in his fifth consecutive start was offset by a goal in the 90th minute from Kacper Przyzbylko in front of an announced attendance of 43,335. Toronto scored with the final kick of the game against Atlanta United to scrape out a 2-2 draw last week.

Atlanta United stretched its streak of remaining unbeaten when leading at halftime to 28 games (23-0-5).

“It was a silly mistake that that obviously hurt us,” Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said of Chicago’s late goal. “But the team understood then after that never quit. And that’s a massive positive to me. We have a team full of warriors, people that that understand the roles and and he’s willing to do everything for the team. So that’s positive, we need to correct the soccer side for sure.”

It was a costly match for Atlanta United. Giakouamkis had to be subbed off early in the second half with an apparent hamstring injury for the second consecutive game. He was preceded as a necessary sub by goalkeeper Quentin Westberg not returning in the second half with a knee injury. He was replaced by Clement Diop

There is no time to heal. Not only does the transfer window close Monday evening should the team need to sign another goalkeeper, but it will host Memphis in a U.S. Open Cup game on Wednesday and resume MLS play at Nashville on Saturday.

“At that point there’s pressure to not get injured because there’s a curse on this club?” Diop said. “Feels like every goalkeeper is getting injured this year.”

Pineda fielded a strong lineup with Giakoumakis back at striker after suffering a minor hamstring strain in last week’s draw at Toronto, Thiago Almada at attacking midfielder after missing the Toronto game because of an undisclosed injury, and Luiz Araujo and Derrick Etienne on the wings. Matheus Rossetto and Santiago Sosa anchored the midfield with Brooks Lennon and Andrew Gutman as the fullbacks, Miles Robinson and Purata as the centerbacks and Westberg in goal.

Giakoumakis opened the scoring the 13th minute when he put in from close range a cross by Lennon, who sprinted more than 40 yards to catch up to a pass from Almada, who hit it from inside Atlanta United’s defensive half. Lennon reached the ball as it crossed the end line and put a pass into the center of the box to Giakoumakis, who took a touch before successfully shooting to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead. It was Lennon’s third assist. Almada was also credited with an assist, his sixth. According to Opta, Giakoumakis became the second player in MLS history to score in each of his first five starts, joining Taylor Twellman, who scored in his first six in 2002.

The rest of the half and most of the second wasn’t an example of Atlanta United’s best soccer. It was frequently sloppy with the ball, particularly in the midfield, and there wasn’t a lot of movement by the wingers to create passing opportunities.

“Frustration because I felt that we didn’t have our best game,” Pineda said. “Probably we have one of the worst I’ve seen, especially on the ball. We never had rhythm on the ball, we never could really connect good sequences of passes possession. There were moments in the first half. But certainly, we lost the control for the big majority of the game. So I was frustrated with that.”

Westberg was forced off after he said he landed awkwardly on his right knee during warm-ups. The same knee was hit during the game and began to swell, which is why Diop came on for Westberg. It was Diop’s debut with Atlanta United. Westberg had replaced Brad Guzan as starter two games ago after Guzan suffered an MCL injury that was expected to sideline him for at least 10 weeks. Diop is Atlanta United’s sole healthy goalkeeper.

Pined had planned to take off Giakoumakis in the 60th minute. But was forced to do so in the 58th minute with what appeared to be a recurrent of the issue with his left hamstring. He was replaced by Miguel Berry. Caleb Wiley also came on for Etienne. Machop Chol replaced Almada in the 68th minute in what was another planned sub as Atlanta United looked for someway to break Chicago’s pressure. Atlanta United had great difficulty keeping possession long enough to work the ball into Chicago’s half for long stretches early in the second half. Ibarra replaced Araujo in the 80th minute.

“I think there’s just a lot of things were a little bit sloppy at times,” Etienne said. “They were trapping, and then just sometimes the run might be too early or too late. “We just weren’t at our best today.”

Chicago got its deserved equalizer when Ibarra made a sloppy pass that split Atlanta United’s centerbacks near midfield. Przyzbylko was offside but it didn’t matter because the pass was played by an Atlanta United player. Przyzbylko ran onto the ball and beat Diop.

And then, to the shock of Chicago manager Ezra Hendrickson and surprise of Purata, referee Victor Rivas nine minutes of stoppage time on the board.

“So that’s something that I have to go back and look and see where those minutes came from,” Hendrickson said.

Rather than settle for the draw, Atlanta United was finally able to work through Chicago’s press and push forward.

A header by Purata was pushed away by Chicago’s Chris Brady in the final seconds. On the subsequent corner, the ball bounced off Purata and was put in by the Chicago player. Purata wheeled away to celebrate.

“They were laughing about that, but I don’t care if the team wins,” Purata said. “It’s a last minute goal so I was so happy for the team, even if we didn’t play well. We all know that. But the only the only important thing is we we never stopped fighting.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 Atlanta United 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1

March 4 Atlanta United 1, Toronto FC 1

March 11 Atlanta United 3, Charlotte FC 0

March 18 Atlanta United 5, Portland 1

March 25 Columbus 6, Atlanta United 1

April 1 Atlanta United 1, New York Red Bulls 0

April 8 Atlanta United 1, New York City FC 1

April 15 Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2

April 23 Atlantat United 2, Chicago Fire FC 1

April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox

May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.

May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.

May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.

May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.

May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1

June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.

June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox

July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.

July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA