A sharp free kick by Ezequiel Barco, a goal by Josef Martinez and another by George Bello after a fantastic run by Marcelino Moreno pushed Atlanta United past D.C. United 3-2 in an important MLS match Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

With the win, its seventh in its past eight games, Atlanta United (9-7-9) moved two points past D.C. United (10-11-4) in the race for one of the seven playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The Five Stripes could finish the weekend as high as in fourth place, which would come with hosting a playoff game, depending upon the weekend’s other results. Announced attendance Saturday was 42,608.

The team took all nine points and scored 10 goals from its three home games during the past eight days, which manager Gonzalo Pineda said was very important for the team’s momentum for the rest of the season.

D.C. United was the only of the three teams to score.

“Even though we never like to concede goals, what I liked was the reaction,” Pineda said.

Playing without Miles Robinson, a candidate for MLS Defender of the Year, Atlanta United neutralized D.C. United’s Ola Kamara, who led the league in goals scored (16) coming into the game, including scoring a hat-trick earlier this week.

“”He may have been probably feeling on top of the world coming here today,” centerback Anton Walkes said. “We kind of put that fire out.”

Barco’s quality proved to be one of the biggest differences between the two teams. With his seventh goal and sixth assist, the midfielder has contributed to 11 of the team’s past 17 goals. Trying to stop Atlanta United’s playmakers, D.C. United committed 25 fouls, the most sustained by the Five Stripes this season. D.C. United entered Saturday with the most fouls committed in MLS.

“I was able to come back (from the Olympics) and really wanted to help the team because at that moment, it was going through a difficult moment,” Barco said. “So I’ve come back and just wanted to give my best and really been trying to do everything I can to help, and that means being well physically, mentally and doing all that I can.”

As he has done during his short time as Atlanta United’s manager, Pineda gambled a bit with his starting lineup. Surprisingly, Luiz Araujo, who scored his first goal in Wednesday’s win against Cincinnati, was on the bench Saturday. Additionally, Robinson wasn’t on the game-day roster because Pineda thought that he needed a few days off. So the team started without arguably its best defender and attacker. The starting lineup consisted of striker Martinez, midfielders Barco, Moreno, Matheus Rossetto and Santiago Sosa, wingbacks Brooks Lennon and Bello, centerbacks Walkes, Alan Franco and George Campbell, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

Atlanta United opened the scoring in the 18th minute on a pinpoint sharp free kick by Barco, who nailed his shot into the upper left corner from 25 yards at a tight angle. The free kick was set up by Barco chipping the ball over D.C. United’s defense to Bello, who was hauled down. The team has produced five goals from set pieces in its past 198 minutes of play.

“We practiced that,” Pineda said before adding, “just kidding. It’s all Barco. The confidence he has.”

Bello wasted a chance in the 24th minute to give Atlanta United a 2-0 lead. Played behind D.C. United’s defense, Bello dribbled at goalkeeper Bill Hamid but took one touch too many, which allowed Hamid to close the shooting angle. The ball was knocked out for a corner kick.

Guzan kept Atlanta United’s one-goal lead with a reaction save just before halftime after a free kick bounced around in the penalty box.

D.C. United controlled the game in the opening minutes of the second half with its constant full-field pressure.

Pineda subbed in Araujo for Campbell, who Pineda said was beginning to tire, in the 57th minute. That decision resulted in a formation change from a 5-3-2 to a 4-1-3-2. Pineda said he wanted to get “two sprinters,” Araujo and Lennon, matched up on D.C. United players to create some aggressiveness down the right.

Guzan dove to his right to get a right hand on a low, hard shot in the 60th minute to keep Atlanta United’s 1-0 lead.

Araujo soon began to influence the game. He split two defenders to move Atlanta United into D.C.’s half for the first time in several minutes.

D.C. United then turned over the ball, with Barco finding Martinez in the box. He skipped the ball past Hamid to give the Five Stripes a 2-0 lead in the 64th minute. It was Martinez’s ninth goal.

Franco received a yellow card in the 65th minute, which means he will miss the team’s next game at Philadelphia on Sept. 25.

D.C. United cut Atlanta United’s to 2-1 in the 74th minute on a volleyed goal by Felipe.

Atlanta United finished the scoring with Moreno dribbling past five D.C. United defenders before passing the ball to Bello for the tap-in in the 87th minute. It was Bello’s first goal and Moreno’s fifth assist.

D.C. United again cut Atlanta United’s lead to one on an excellent volley by Edison Flores.

Atlanta United “will probably fight to be champions,” D.C. United’s Hernan Losada was quoted as saying after the game.

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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

Sept. 18 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

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