If Sunday’s match between Atlanta United and Charlotte was supposed to be the first in a rivalry, it got off to a good start.
Jake Mulraney hit the game-winner in the 96th minute to lead the Five Stripes to a 2-1 victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Josef Martinez’s first goal this season was offset by one by Adam Armour, the first in Charlotte’s history, before Mulraney’s shot was deflected in with seconds remaining in front of an announced attendance of 43,055. Atlanta United will host Montreal on March 19.
As was the case in last week’s 3-0 loss at Colorado, Atlanta United started the game well, moving the ball at will and showing intricate movements, but couldn’t sustain that momentum. It was lucky to not be trailing at halftime and needed a questionable penalty call to earn its first goal in the second half. Charlotte also benefited from goalkeeping so excellent it resulted in Martinez twice applauding after stopped shots.
As was the case last season, Atlanta United couldn’t hold that lead, with Charlotte scoring its equalizer a few minutes later on a set piece, proving that even first-year franchises that have played just two games can read the blueprint for scoring against the Five Stripes.
Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1 (match statistics)
Not even the debut of new Designated Player Thiago Almada in the second half could get Atlanta United’s offense on track against its Southeastern neighbor. And then Mulraney struck, with his left-footed shot bouncing off the back of a Charlotte defender and going into the near corner. He was played in by Marcelino Moreno, who hit a beautiful cross-field pass into space. It was Mulraney’s first game-winning goal. Both players were second-half subs.
“The reaction from my team is what I love, the players impacting the game from the bench,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “I think that was a massive positive. And also the reaction from our players, with a heart with a passion, with intensity, winning duels, winning tackles and sending messages they will also continue playing. I think that’s what we saw at the end of the game.”
Pineda’s starting lineup was composed of Martinez, Brooks Lennon at right wing and Tyler Wolff on the left with Matheus Rossetto, Amar Sejdic and Ozzie Alonso, who missed the last game as a precaution while cardiologists were consulted, in the midfield. Andrew Gutman and Ronald Hernandez were the fullbacks, George Campbell, in for the suspended Miles Robinson, and Alan Franco as the centerbacks, with Brad Guzan in goal.
Martinez put a header on goal in the fourth minute from a cross by Lennon. It was saved but was the team’s first shot and a good start for the team’s most dangerous scorer.
Martinez pounced on a Charlotte turnover in the 32nd minute 20 yards from goal. He took a few touches and uncorked a right-footed shot that goalkeeper Kristijan Kahlina saved with his right leg. Martinez shook his hand before play restarted.
Charlotte came close to scoring its first goal of the season in the 40th minute, when Karol Swiderski got between Campbell and Gutman 5 yards from goal and put a header on frame. Guzan stopped the shot with his feet, and Campbell cleared the danger. But it was a good opportunity, the visitors’ first real chance.
“The reaction from my team is what I love, the players impacting the game from the bench."
Guzan was forced to make another save in the 44th minute when Swiderski – again between defenders – put a close-range header on target. Guzan followed that by saving a 25-yard volley that was again on frame.
Because of those last few chances, Charlotte finished the first half with a higher expected goals total than Atlanta United, 0.8 to 0.6.
With his team outplayed for the final seven minutes of the first half and the first 11 minutes of the second half, Pineda subbed in Moreno and Almada for Wolff and Sejdic in an attempt to spark the offense. Both coming on received a loud welcome from the supporters.
PIneda said that Charlotte switched tactics, going with a man-to-man system that it took a while to solve.
Before they could even influence the game, Atlanta United earned a penalty kick in the 57th minute, when Lennon was tripped in the box by Christian Makoun after running down a long pass from Franco. Pineda said Franco playing that ball into space was a solution to Charlotte’s man-to-man tactic. Martinez scored in the 60th minute with a right-footed shot into the lower left corner. Kahlina guessed correctly but couldn’t stop the shot. It was Atlanta United’s first penalty attempt this season.
Charlotte got its deserved equalizer in the 66th minute on a header by Armour, who beat Rossetto to a spot on a corner kick. His header beat Guzan to the lower right corner. It was the first goal in Charlotte’s history. Atlanta United has an unfortunate history of allowing goals on set pieces, including a few during the preseason and one against Sporting KC.
“I cannot deny it’s a little bit of a concern, but at the same time I felt that we were very good in most of those,” Pineda said.
Martinez missed a chance to grab his second goal when Kahlina stopped a close-range shot with his left hand, leaving Martinez to once again applaud the keeper in the 81st minute. The shot was set up by a nice sequence that started with Martinez near midfield and included Rossetto and Lennon.
Mulraney made his season debut in the 83rd minute, coming on for Hernandez. The move resulted in Lennon dropping to right fullback and Mulraney playing right wing.
Mulraney said he had lots of space to run into before scoring his game-winner. The defender was shading him to his left, so he said he dropped his shoulder, cut inside and “have a pop.” It was very similar to Dom Dwyer’s goal against Sporting KC in the season-opening game.
“I felt like we dominated large portions of the game,” Mulraney said.
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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 vs. Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
April 2 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
April 10 at Charlotte, 1:30 p.m., ABC, ESPN Deportes
April 16 vs. Cincinnati, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
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
Aug. 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC
Aug. 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1
Aug. 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV
Aug. 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
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