Badly needing a victory, Atlanta United benefited from pieces of magic from Thiago Almada and Luiz Araujo to defeat Colorado 4-0 on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Almada’s free kick from 25 yards was enough to snap the team’s four-game losing streak. It also perhaps was a boost for a team that had shown a lack of urgency the past few weeks. This time, backing up the confidence expressed by manager Gonzalo Pineda on Tuesday, Atlanta United (6-4-3) attacked throughout the match, setting a season-high for shots (27), shots on goal (10) and expected goals (3.85) in front of an announced attendance of 42,587.
Araujo followed with a dribbling sprint of almost 60 yards and a left-footed shot into the lower right corner in the 80th minute. Tyler Wolff added the third in the 87th minute for his first MLS goal and Giorgos Giakoumakis scored his sixth in the 90th minute.
Defensively, the team posted its third shutout and first in its past eight games.
“I was very confident because I know the team wants to be there,” Pineda said. “The team is a winner team. And I love that tonight we show that. Of course, we have to show this every game.”
Pineda, his hands somewhat tied by the absence of Caleb Wiley, who is with the U.S. Under-20s preparing for the World Cup, the red-card suspension being served by Andrew Gutman, and Giakoumakis’ still-improving fitness, selected the following lineup: Miguel Berry at striker with Derrick Etienne and Araujo on the wings, Almada as attacking midfielder with Matheus Rossetto and Santiago Sosa in central midfield. Miles Robinson and JuanJo Purata were paired as the centerbacks with Brooks Lennon and Ronald Hernandez, making his first league start this season, the fullbacks and Quentin Westberg in goal.
It didn’t start well.
First, Almada missed a penalty kick in the 10th minute. He not only missed it, he missed it badly. The shot sailed over the goal and hit one of the posts that supports the nets. The penalty was the result of a handball call against Colorado’s Danny Leyva.
Atlanta United broke through in the 29th minute on a free kick by Almada. The ball was placed just left of center. Almada powered his shot over Colorado’s wall and into the upper left corner. Colorado goalkeeper William Yarbrough hopped twice to his right and watched the shot sail into his goal. Almada has scored three goals from free kicks. It was Atlanta United’s 10th goal from a set piece, the most in MLS this season.
“Thiago is fantastic,” Pineda said. “He practices a lot in training sessions, the free kicks.”
By the end of the half, Atlanta United had created 11 chances and taken 14 shots, which was three more than it took in the entire game against Charlotte. Colorado put its only shot on goal.
Atlanta United 4, Colorado 0
Giakoumakis subbed in for Berry in the 53rd minute. Atlanta United was up to 19 shots by the 62nd minute but its lead remained 1-0. Colorado wasted a chance to tie the match when Ralph Priso put a shot over the crossbar from 18 yards in the 63rd minute. Westberg dove high and to his left to palm away a 25-yard Leyva shot in the 67th minute. Westberg dove low and to his left to stop a close-range shot in the 70th minute.
Araujo’s goal sealed the victory. His run started in Atlanta United’s half of the field. He played a 1-2 pass with Lennon at midfield and then kept going because no Colorado player moved to defend him. It was Araujo’s third goal this season and his first since March 18, a scoreless stretch of eight matches. Araujo declined to speak after the match. Lennon was credited with an assist.
“We saw tonight, what he (Araujo) can provide to the team,” Pineda said. “I think he was close to scoring goals. I told you he was unlucky in a couple of plays here and there.”
Wolff’s goal came from just inches away. He also scored in the U.S. Open Cup and recently scored for Atlanta United 2.
“It was awesome,” he said. “You can never score enough goals. So I’m happy to score for this special group. And I know we’ve been in a little bit of a rough spot right now, but it was good. Good reaction by the group.”
Giakoumakis’ goal came after he chested down a long pass from Lennon, and then hit a chip over Yarbrough. Giakoumakis caught up to the chip as it reached the goal line and volleyed the ball into the net. Lennon was credited with his sixth assist.
Hernandez, who finished with three tackles and 10 possessions won in what Pineda said was a fantastic performance, said he thinks the team found its energy because it was under pressure.
“When you play under pressure, it shows the character that we have,” he said. “Every player was committed. The first thing tonight was to put the team first and then afterward, we will see what happened and we saw the result.”
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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 Atlanta United 2, Chicago 1
April 29 Nashville SC 3, Atlanta United 1
May 6 Inter Miami CF 2, Atlanta United 1
May 13 Charlotte 3, Atlanta United 1
May 17 Atlanta United 4, Colorado Rapids 0
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 p.m., FS1
June 7 or Sept. 13 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