Atlanta United wins again, moves into playoff position

Martinez, Araujo lift MLS team to sixth win in seven games with victory against Cincinnati

A fantastic run and goal by Luiz Araujo, two goals by Josef Martinez and a free kick by Ezequiel Barco lifted Atlanta United past Cincinnati 4-0 on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The win was the team’s sixth in seven games and moved it into at least seventh place, above the playoff line for the first time since May 23 when it was in fifth place in the MLS Eastern Conference. Atlanta United (8-7-9) will host D.C. United, which it trails by one point, on Saturday. Wednesday’s win came in front of an announced attendance of 42,501.

The four goals are a season-high for Atlanta United.

Araujo’s goal was his first with Atlanta United and should be up for goal of the year, while Martinez’s goals lifted his total with the club to 85 in 100 regular-season appearances. Alan Franco, who had no assists in 15 appearances, was credited with three in the game to set a franchise record.

For the second consecutive game, Atlanta dominated an opponent. It has outscored the past two visitors, Orlando and Cincinnati, 7-0. It outshot Cincinnati, 15-11, and owned possession by more than a 20 percentage-point difference. It was the team’s seventh shutout this season.

“It is somehow what I envisioned,” Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “Obviously having as many attacking-minded players on the field helps. But as a coach, you have to always think in the balance and how to control the game. So I think all of that combined is what gave us today the three points.”

Pineda’s starting lineup was composed of Martinez and Araujo as the strikers, Barco, Marcelino Moreno and Matheus Rossetto in the midfield, Brooks Lennon and Jake Mulraney as the wingbacks, Miles Robinson, Franco and George Campbell as the centerbacks, with Brad Guzan in goal. While Martinez and Robinson returned as starters, George Bello, who was with Robinson for the U.S. World Cup qualifying games, didn’t start for the second consecutive game.

Pineda again experimented, playing Araujo, Barco and Martinez as a front three with Martinez on the left, instead of in the center, for the opening 20 minutes.

Araujo opened the scoring in the fifth minute by dribbling away from four Cincinnati defenders, including two who were on top of him, as if they were practice dummies, getting into the box, opening his hips and hitting a left-footed shot into the left side of the goal. The run lasted 50 yards and was Miguel Almiron-esque in its speed and tenacity. Franco was credited with an assist, his first.

Araujo said he had no idea that there were four defenders trying to contain him.

“I was working very hard to get this first goal,” he said. “In the first four four games I came very close to scoring but it wouldn’t go in.”

Franco came close to giving that goal back when he tried to turn to the right with the ball, only for it to get away from him at the top of the penalty box. Cincy’s Brenner pounced but Franco recovered and applied enough pressure to force the Brazilian to shoot over the crossbar in the 30th minute.

Lennon put Atlanta United’s next shot on goal after he was played through by Moreno, who hit a delicate chip over Cincy’s backline toward the penalty spot 12 yards from goal near the 38th minute. Lennon’s shot was saved and Araujo’s follow-up header was blocked.

Atlanta United added a second goal on a header by Martinez in the 40th minute. Franco and Araujo were credited with assists. The play started with an Araujo free kick 35 yards from goal. He lofted a pass toward the back post. Franco was first to it and hit a right-footed pass back across the goal to Martinez. It was Martinez’s seventh goal this season. It was Franco’s second assist, making him the first Atlanta United player to notch two in one game this season, and Araujo’s first.

The team has scored three goals from set pieces in the past two games.

Martinez’s second goal was an intelligent pass between defenders into the lower right corner in the 55th minute. It was assisted by Barco, his fifth this season, and Franco, for his third.

“(It means) A lot,” Martinez said. “Because six months ago, I don’t think I play again. I love this team. You know that.”

Barco finished the scoring with a free kick from 20 yards into the lower right corner in the 86th minute.

Since the beginning of August, Barco has been involved in nine of Atlanta United’s 15 goals.

“I think he has a very high ceiling, I don’t think we are still seeing the best Barco,” Pineda said. “But what we were seeing just now is very good.”

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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1,

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 New England 1, Atlanta United 0

July 21 Atlanta United 1, Cincinnati 1

July 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Orlando 3, Atlanta United 2

Aug. 4 Atlanta United 2, Montreal 2

Aug. 7 Atlanta United 3, Columbus 2

Aug. 15 Atlanta United 1, LAFC 0

Aug. 18 Atlanta United 1, Toronto

Aug. 21 Atlanta United 2, D.C. United 1

Aug. 28 Nashville 2, Atlanta United 0

Sept. 10 Atlanta United 3, Orlando 0

Sept. 15 Atlanta United 4, Cincinnati 0

Saturday vs. D.C. United, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 25 at Philadelphia,3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 29 vs. Inter Miami, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 2 at Montreal, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 16 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE