Atlanta United scored two late goals to earn a 3-3 draw with Montreal two weeks ago, and scored a goal in the sixth minute of stoppage time to defeat Charlotte 2-1 three weeks ago. It has earned seven points from its past three games with goals in stoppage time.
“I think it says a lot about a team that doesn’t give up that last year, I remember we gave up a lot of points at the end of the games,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “And now we’re doing completely the opposite. And that, for me, is a massive achievement.”
Moreno may have been fortunate to not be called for a push as players jockeyed for position as the ball sailed into the box. Moreno took advantage of the space to hit his header toward the lower corner. Moreno said the contact was typical on those plays. The ball took a slight deflection and casually rolled into the net. Moreno spun away from his teammates and lifted his jersey to reveal a T-shirt upon which was written “Gracias Dios” (translation: “Thanks God”). Moreno said his wife gave him that shirt a long time ago.
The Five Stripes may have lost two more players, Matheus Rossetto and Ozzie Alonso, to injuries, offsetting the satisfaction of its first positive result from its second road game. Atlanta United (3-1-1) will play at Charlotte on April 10. Pineda said he had no update on either player. He said an MRI may be needed on Alonso.
Atlanta United’s offense had a difficult time breaking and then exploiting D.C. United’s pressure throughout the game until the final seconds. The team had an expected goals total of 0.9 on 13 shots, two on target before Moreno’s header. It finished with an xG of 1.0. Atlanta United’s defense played well, limiting D.C. United’s expected goals to 0.4 on nine shots, two on target. It was Atlanta United’s first shutout this season.
Pineda handed Thiago Almada his first start after he came off the bench in the previous two games. Jake Mulraney also earned his first start this season. Also in the 11 were striker Josef Martinez, attacking midfielder Moreno, central midfielder Rossetto, defensive midfielder Alonso, right fullback Lennon, left fullback Andrew Gutman, centerbacks Alan Franco and George Campbell, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan. It was the first time this season that Martinez, Almada and Moreno – Designated Players or former DPs -- were in the starting lineup. Martinez was the only player who participated with his national team during the recent World Cup qualifying games who was in the starting 11. Miles Robinson and Ronald Hernandez were on the bench, as were Caleb Wiley and Tyler Wolff, who were with the U.S. under-20 team in Argentina.
Moreno and Almada exchanged positions frequently during the first half, which saw Atlanta United struggle to put together many passing sequences against D.C. United’s tenacious press, which neutralized the middle of the field with as many as four players converging on the ball when it was in that area. D.C. United’s players fouled Atlanta United’s players 14 times in the first half, frequently stopping any attacks or counters before they could start.
Pineda said that was his complaint to the officials at halftime. He said D.C. United wasn’t allowing Atlanta United to play. He said the same thing happened last season when the team played at Audi Field and he was in the stands watching.
“At the end of the day, no one will remember if these three points were at the end or the beginning,” Pineda said. “And that put us in a very good position in the standings, and continue that competition for the top of our conference.”
Almada’s put Atlanta United’s first shot on goal in the 39th minute with a free kick from 30 yards that was easily saved by D.C. United’s Bill Hamid.
Atlanta United’s best scoring chance came just before the end of the first half when Rossetto hit a stinging shot that forced Hamid into a diving save. But Rossetto immediately signaled that he needed to be subbed off. He then grabbed his left hamstring and signaled again that he needed to be subbed off as the first half ended. Atlanta United put two of its seven shots on goal in the first 45 minutes. D.C. United also put two of its seven shots on goal.
Santiago Sosa replaced Rossetto to start the start the second half.
Atlanta United suffered another injury scare in the 58th minute wen Alonso went down in the penalty box after a collision that resulted in the trainers treating him. He was able to return.
D.C. United came close to breaking the deadlock in the 61st minute when Steven Birnbaum’s header went just wide. The shot came on the third consecutive corner by D.C. United.
Alonso came off in the 62nd minute. He was replaced by Franco Ibarra. Jackson Conway, who scored three goals for Atlanta United 2 against Charleston last week, also came on for Martinez, who may have been fatigued after being with Venezuela for its qualifiers. Atlanta United had yet to take a shot in the second half when those subs were made.
“He did everything he could up to his potential and physical status,” Pineda said of Martinez, who took two shots. “I felt he did a good job.”
Miles Robinson came on for Mulraney in the 74th minute, resulting in Atlanta United switching back to the three-centerback system it used most of last season. Pineda said that move was made to deal with D.C. United’s two big center forwards.
Atlanta United finally broke through D.C. United’s pressure in the 78th minute with Almada and Moreno combining nicely in the box. The ball went to Conway, who muffed the shot from 12 yards.
Neither team could generate much in the final minutes. Both seemed content to split the points until the corner kick resulted in the winning goal. It was Moreno’s first goal this season.
Pineda said the team hasn’t worked with Moreno in the rotation of who attacks that corner kick in its training exercises. Pineda again credited his assistants for the team’s work on set pieces.
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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 at Charlotte, 1:30 p.m., ABC, ESPN Deportes
April 16 vs. Cincinnati, 6 p.m., Peachtree TV
April 24 at Miami, 1 p.m., ESPN
April 30 at Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
May 7 vs. Chicago, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
May 15 vs. New England, 2 p.m., ESPN
May 21 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m. FOX
May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
June 19 vs Miami, 4 p.m., ESPN2
June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC
July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1
July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC
August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
August 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1
August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV
August 31 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.
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