Barco goal lifts Atlanta United to third consecutive win
Team shuts out Toronto 1-0
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Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco reacts to scoring a goal against Toronto FC with Josef Martinez cheering him on for a 1-0 lead during the first half in a MLS soccer match on Wednesday, August 18, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
A goal from Ezequiel Barco lifted Atlanta United to a 1-0 victory against Toronto on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The MLS team has won three consecutive league games for the first time since it won four in a row in August 2019. It came in front of an announced attendance of 42,502. The team is 3-2-2 under interim manager Rob Valentino.
The shutout was the team’s second consecutive and fifth this season. It marked the first time the team posted consecutive shutouts since October 2020.
Atlanta United took 21 shots, one less than its season high, and put four on goal. Toronto took 14 and put three on goal.
While the stats were impressive, it wasn’t an inspiring performance by the Five Stripes, who looked mostly static on offense despite having their three Designated Players, totaling more than $30 million in transfer fees, starting.
“I’m glad we won the game,” Valentino said twice when asked if he was happy with the performance.
The win, combined with D.C. United’s loss to New England and Montreal’s draw with Cincinnati, means Atlanta United trails those two teams by three points in the race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta United will play Saturday at D.C. United.
New Designated player Luiz Araujo made Atlanta United’s starting 11 with Valentino keeping the five at the back and going with just one defensive midfielder instead of two. The rest of the lineup was Josef Martinez, Marcelino Moreno, Barco, Santiago Sosa, Brooks Lennon, George Bello, Anton Walkes, Miles Robinson, Alan Franco and Brad Guzan.
A moment of brilliance in a 1-on-3 situation gave Atlanta United the lead when Barco broke through in the 20th minute with a deft, chipped effort with his left foot from a tight angle back to the upper left corner. Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg didn’t even attempt to save it. It was Barco’s fourth goal this season, tying a career high. Lennon, who hit the long pass down the left to Barco, was given the assist, a team-high fourth this season.
“I’m just happy with the goal to be able to get it to help the team,” Barco said.
Lennon said through scouting Toronto he knew that they were susceptible to passes hit behind the defense. He said he told Barco and Martinez before the game to watch for the passes.
“I knew I had to play him because he was going to be wide open,” Lennon said. “Glad to connect with him and happy he got the goal.”
It was the second consecutive game that a ball over the top resulted in the deciding goal. It’s something Valentino said he wants to see more of.
“I’m not here to play pretty soccer all the time,” he said. “Sometimes it needs to be attack-minded and go.”
Atlanta United couldn’t turn its statistical dominance into more goals before halftime, though. It created 10 chances but put just three of its 10 shots on goal despite dominating possession with 63.4% of the ball.
Toronto subbed on two of its Designated Players, Alejandro Pozuelo, Yeferson Soteldo and attacking fullback Kemar Lawrence in an attempt to find a tying goal.
Valentino followed with two subs. Amar Sejdic came on for Sosa in the 59th minute and Erik Lopez came on for Araujo in the 67th minute.
Moreno missed a chance in the 83rd minute to seal the win when his right-footed shot from seven yards went wide left. His first shot was blocked but the ball bounced to him. He dribbled to his right around Toronto’s defenders to create space to shoot again.
A goal by Erik Lopez in the 87th minute was called back because of offside.
“Its important to win games like that,” Valentino said. “It’s important to win at home. I told them before the game you have to win at home.”