Atlanta United earns crucial win against D.C. United

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Needing a win to keep alive its hopes of making the MLS playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, Atlanta United got a goal from the face of the franchise and two more from unexpected sources to defeat D.C. United 3-2 on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Josef Martinez, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, came off the bench for the third time in the past four games to tie the match at 2. His goal was sandwiched between one by centerback Alan Franco and the winner by centerback JuanJo Purata in a 20-minute stretch in the second half in front of an announced attendance of 42,561.

It was the first time this season that Atlanta United (8-10-9) earned a win (1-8-3) after the opponent scored first.

Of more importance, it moved the Five Stripes to three points behind Columbus for the seventh and final playoff spot. That gap could stay the same or grow larger depending upon New England’s result against L.A. Galaxy on Sunday. Atlanta United will play at Philadelphia on Wednesday with a chance for its first two-game win streak this season.

“The team is being consistent in the last few games, we’ve been attacking very well, obviously, some fragility on the back in certain moments of the game where we concede goals that cost us in certain periods of time,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “But what I like is the response of the team, attacking and attacking and overwhelming the opponent. And that’s something that I really liked.”

Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2 (match statistics)

Pineda again elected to not start Martinez and Marcelino Moreno, instead choosing Ronaldo Cisneros, Thiago Almada and Luiz Araujo as the front three, supported by Amar Sejdic and Santiago Sosa, who were paired together for the second consecutive game, wingbacks Brooks Lennon and Caleb Wiley, centerbacks Purata, Franco and Andrew Gutman, with Rocco Rios Novo in goal.

Atlanta United’s best chance came in the 27th minute, when an 18-yard shot by Sejdic forced a diving save from David Ochoa.

Atlanta United kept the pressure on D.C. United throughout the half but put only three of its 11 shots on goal.

“I think we should have been more clinical in the first half,” Pineda said. “I actually think that the movement of the ball was very good, especially in certain parts of the first half.”

D.C. United made the hosts pay with a goal by Ravel Morrison in the 47th minute. The shot was a half-volley from 25 yards that dipped into the lower right corner of the goal. It was D.C. United’s first goal in 496 minutes.

Atlanta United didn’t wilt, which has been an issue this season. Instead, it answered two minutes later with a header by Franco into the right corner. It was Franco’s first goal. Almada was credited with the assist, his team-leading ninth.

“I feel motivated and feel like there is a lot of trust in me,” Purata said. “Since my arrival, the team has trusted me, and as a response, I have been trying my best to score. We won today, and that’s really important to us since it’s our home.”

D.C. United took back its lead in the 55th minute on a header by Ola Kamara, who was a first-half sub for an injured Taxi Fountas. Kamara got past Franco for a close-range shot from a cross by Chris Durkin on the right.

Pineda brought on Martinez in the 60th minute in place of Cisneros in an attempt to find the tying goal.

Unmarked, Martinez answered with a header in the 62nd minute to tie the game at 2. Lennon was credited with the assist.

“Josef and I have a really good connection,” Lennon said. “This is my third year playing with him now, and I am trying to do everything I can to get him on the scoresheet, and that is my job at this club, to create goal-scoring opportunities, which I have done tonight.”

Martinez had two more chances in the next few minutes as Atlanta United pressed for a third goal.

“We all know the quality that Josef Martinez has,” Pineda said. “It is obviously for us a 90-minute game, and we need to manage the load and the ability to impact against in the best moments for Josef, and I felt that we did that today very well.”

Purata provided the goal in the 70th minute with a header. It was the second consecutive game that the centerback scored. All three of his goals this season have come on headers. Lennon was credited with another assist.

It was the fourth time this season that Atlanta United scored three goals. The team created 19 chances, put nine of its 25 shots on goal and finished with an expected goals of 2.09.

“We are now three points away from (the) playoffs and probably against the relationship with a fifth place,” Pineda said. “So we’re three points away of being there again, so we’re going to fight, we’re going to compete for that spot. And that’s the urgency we feel.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1

July 17 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

July 24 L.A. Galaxy 2, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Atlanta United 0, Chicago 0

Aug. 6 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 1

Aug. 13 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 2

Aug. 17 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

Aug. 21 Atlanta United 2, Columbus 2

Aug. 28 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

Aug. 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE