A hat trick by Ronaldo Cisneros, his first for the club, and a goal by Brooks Lennon carried Atlanta United to a 4-1 victory over Chicago on Saturday in front of an announced attendance of 42,547 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The confidence-boosting win came at a cost because centerback Miles Robinson was stretchered off the field in the first half with what manager Gonzalo Pineda described at halftime as likely a bad injury that will require an MRI.
The performance, which set a season-high for goals, helped erase the team’s (4-4-2) four-game winless streak during which it scored just two goals. The players on Saturday moved the ball with a quickness and purpose. Dribbling was kept mostly to a minimum. Passing and running were the focus. It was synchronized chaos that Chicago couldn’t contain. Atlanta United finished with 16 shots, seven on target, and 13 chances created. Pineda said he didn’t think the offense played any differently than it has in its past games.
“We had the fortune to score the goals and to be clinical,” Pineda said. “But I don’t think there was anything particularly different to what we try every weekend.”
The result was the first hat trick by an Atlanta United player since Josef Martinez did so on July 21, 2018. Cisneros, on loan from Chivas in LIGA MX, became the third player in team history to accomplish the feat. The other was by Miguel Almiron. It was also the second-fastest hat trick in team history, only behind the 33 minutes it took Martinez against Orlando on Sept. 16, 2017.
“I feel very happy, especially for the team’s victory,” Cisneros said. “Obviously the three goals make me feel happy. We came from three (four) previous matches without a victory, so for me the most important thing today is the victory and the three points.”
For the first time this season, Pineda was able to roll out the same lineup for the second consecutive week. Cisneros started at striker with Luiz Araujo, Marcelino Moreno and Thiago Almada across the midfield. Matheus Rossetto and Franco Ibarra were the defensive midfielders in front of Robinson and Alan Franco as centerbacks, Lennon and Andrew Gutman as fullbacks and Bobby Shuttleworth in goal.
Chicago rolled out a 5-4-1 formation that indicated it planned to put as many as 10 players behind the ball and hope to beat Atlanta United with a goal from a counter or set piece.
Pineda said on Thursday that it would be nice for his team to score an early goal. That’s one way to get an opponent to try to play, rather than to bunker.
Well, Pineda’s team did.
After a period of possession, Moreno one-timed a pass to his right to Araujo near the top of the penalty box. He one-timed back to his left to Cisneros, whose shot went off Chicago goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina before striking the crossbar and settling in the goal in the third minute. It was Cisneros’ second goal. Araujo and Moreno were credited with assists. It was Moreno’s third and Araujo’s first.
Chicago tied the game at 1 in the 11th minute because, as it is wont to do, Atlanta United switched off for one second.
The sequence started with a corner kick taken by Xherdan Shaqiri. His free kick was punched away by Shuttleworth. Chicago’s Miguel Navarro was the first to the ball about 30 yards away in the middle of the field. As Atlanta United players began to run up the field, none of them marked Shaqiri on the left. The former Liverpool player received the ball and passed it across Atlanta United’s goal, about six yards from the end line, where a sliding Chinonso Offor tapped it in.
And then things got worse.
Robinson went down untouched in the 14th minute. He began slamming his hand against the turf as trainers came out and began looking at his left knee, calf and Achilles tendon. The team has already lost two players, goalkeepers Brad Guzan and Dylan Castanheira, to ruptured Achilles tendons this season. Alex de John came on for Robinson in the 17th minute.
Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1
After the shock of losing Robinson, Atlanta United began to try to assert control. Gutman’s header was saved near the 23rd minute and then he put a shot wide after an excellent early cross from Lennon in the 25th minute.
Atlanta United got its reward and a 2-1 lead in the 27th minute when Cisneros pounced on a loose ball following a shot from Rossetto. The sequence started with Ibarra dispossessing Shaqiri about 35 yards from goal. Ibarra passed to Moreno on the left, who quickly passed to a streaking Rossetto. His left-footed shot was palmed by Slonina to his left where Cisneros pounced.
Cisneros completed his hat trick and gave Atlanta United a 3-1 lead in the 36th minute when he was played in by Almada. Cisneros rounded Slonina and shot from 12 yards away. It was Almada’s first assist this season. The play required just two passes, the first by Ibarra near the top of Atlanta United’s 18-yard box, up the middle of the field to cover about 90 yards in just a few seconds.
At halftime, Lennon said Pineda told them to win the game for Robinson, Guzan and Ozzie Alonso, who also suffered a season-ending injury a few weeks ago.
“It’s kind of a pride thing now to push forward to score goals for them so we’re really happy that we scored four tonight,” Lennon said. “We’ve struggled to put the ball in the back of the net and to score four goals in one game in MLS is not easy.”
Emerson Hyndman and Caleb Wiley came on in the 67th minute for Moreno and Gutman, in what may have been an attempt to keep those players fresh because Atlanta United will play at Nashville in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. Wiley lasted just 13 minutes before he was forced off with an ankle injury. He was replaced by Ronald Hernandez in the 81st minute. Santiago Sosa also came on for Ibarra in a double substitution.
Lennon capped the scoring with a left-footed shot in the 91st minute.
“I think the team had been playing pretty well in the last games,” Cisneros said. “Unfortunately, we hadn’t had the precision that we did today. It was something that we’ve been searching for in the past few games where we weren’t able to win and today we were able to finish.”
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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule
Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1
March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0
March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1
March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3
April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0
April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0
April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0
April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1
April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1
May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1
May 15 vs. New England, 1:30 p.m., ESPN
May 21 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m. FOX
May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
June 19 vs Miami, 3 p.m., ESPN2
June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC
July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1
July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC
August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
August 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1
August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV
August 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1
Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX
Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas
Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas
Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE