Atlanta United wins 4th in row, ties for playoff spot

MLS team defeats D.C. United 2-1
Atlanta United midfielder Marcelino Moreno celebrates after scoring a goal during the match against D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington, District of Columbia on Saturday August 21, 2021. (Photo by Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)

Credit: Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United

Credit: Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United

Atlanta United midfielder Marcelino Moreno celebrates after scoring a goal during the match against D.C. United at Audi Field in Washington, District of Columbia on Saturday August 21, 2021. (Photo by Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)

Atlanta United’s win streak reached four with a 2-1 victory at D.C. United on Saturday.

Goals by Josef Martinez in the first half and Marcelino Moreno late in the second half were enough to overcome a fantastically tough free kick by Yordy Reyna. It’s the team’s first four-game win streak since August 2019.

The win improves Atlanta United (6-6-9) to 27 points. It moved ahead of Columbus into eighth place in the Eastern Conference. It moved into a tie on points with D.C. United for the final playoff spot.

The game was Atlanta United’s third in seven days and at times it appeared out of gas. D.C. United took 27 shots but put just seven on goal. Atlanta United took 13, putting four on goal. It will now have a week before it plays its next game against Nashville at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on August 28. It is scheduled to be new manager Gonzalo Pineda’s first game in charge.

“I‘m extremely proud of the result, it’s really important,” said interim manager Rob Valentino, who went 4-2-2. “You know, coming here on the road, hot, not an easy place to play. It’s not an easy team to play against, especially on the back of that schedule that we just had. And I am I’m really proud of what they’ve done.”

Valentino selected 10 of the 11 players from Wednesday’s 1-0 win against Toronto. The only change was Amar Sejdic, who was in for the injured Santiago Sosa. The remaining starters were Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, Moreno, Luiz Araujo, George Bello, Brooks Lennon, Miles Robinson, Anton Walkes, Alan Franco and goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

Valentino said he knew the game was going to be difficult because of the way that D.C. United likes to play, combined with his own team’s fatigue lack of central midfielders. The team was down to Sejdic and Mattheus Rossetto as defensive or central midfielders. To counter, Valentino asked Moreno to drop deeper at times to help.

Martinez gave Atlanta United a 1-0 lead with a goal in the 25th minute. After megging Julian Gressel, Moreno brought the ball up and put a pass between D.C. United’s two centerbacks for Martinez to run onto. He caught up to the ball and held off a defender who was on his back for long enough to get off a shot. It was Martinez’s sixth goal and Moreno’s third assist. Walkes was also credited with an assist, his second.

Atlanta United thought it had a second goal by Araujo in the 32nd minute but it was called back because of offside against Martinez earlier in the play.

Atlanta United was fortunate in the 38th minute when Ola Kamara, unmarked, shot over the goal from seven yards following a well-worked corner kick routine.

D.C. United failed to capitalize on an opportunity in the 40th minute when an open Kevin Paredes put his 18-yard right shot right at Guzan.

Atlanta United had a penalty claim denied when D.C. United goalkeeper Jon Kempin appeared to trip Martinez in the penalty box in the 43rd minute. But referee Nima Saghafi, who was struggling keeping the game under control, waived away the claim.

Valentino said he didn’t receive an explanation why the penalty wasn’t called.

D.C. United got its equalizer in the 54th minute on a free kick by Reyna from a very tough angle. Reyna caught Guzan off his line and hit a shot that went over his head before bouncing off the underside of the crossbar and going into the goal.

“I hold my hand up for the goal,” Guzan said. He said he thought that Lennon was closer and able to close down the shooting angle. Guzan was trying to organize the defense when the shot was taken.

Guzan made up for that error with two saves in the next five minutes to keep Atlanta United tied.

Valentino attempted to shore up the midfield by bringing on Mattheus Rossetto for Sejdic in the 61st minute.

George Campbell came on for Franco in the 72nd minute. Franco appeared to sustain an injury a few minutes before he was subbed off.

Martinez was denied by Kempin in the 80th minute in a one-on-one situation. Martinez was put into space by Araujo, who stole the ball from a D.C. United player in the middle of the field.

Moreno scored the winner with a right-footed shot from 20 yards through traffic and into the left corner in the 82nd minute.

Guzan preserved the win with a reflexive diving save to his right in the 86th minute on a low, hard shot through a group of players. He made another save from close range in the first minute of stoppage time that likely hurt quite a bit because the ball hit him below his midsection.

Speaking after the game, Valentino credited Campbell and Sejdic for playing very well in the middle of the formation.

The win was also important because the team rallied and held on. It had trouble doing so in previous close games earlier in the season.

“To have a comeback go in our favor, I think it shows you where the belief is in this group at the minute, where the character is in this group in the minute,” Guzan said. “And you need that going forward, especially when you’re coming out of the period that that we’ve come out of it now to go with four on the bounce is huge.”

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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 vs. Nashville, 3:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 10 vs. Orlando, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 18 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