JuanJo Purata, Thiago Almada lift Atlanta United past Toronto

Three goals by JuanJo Purata and a winner by Thiago Almada were enough to lift Atlanta United past Toronto 4-2 on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

It was a deserved result for the hosts, who dominated the game. Atlanta United (9-12-9) finished with 27 shots, including 10 on goal, to Toronto’s eight and two, in front of an announced attendance of 42,760.

The victory and subsequent three points kept the Five Stripes’ hopes flickering in its pursuit of the seventh and final playoff spot in the East. They started the night six points behind with five games remaining, and they moved to five points with four games remaining. Atlanta United will play at Orlando on Wednesday and attempt to put together its first two-game win streak this season.

“Well, we have to do our part, which is going game by game trying to win every game,” manager Gonzalo Pineda said. “But not just a result, which obviously, ultimately is our jobs, but it’s the performance. The type of performance that we showed today is similar to what we want from the team.”

The trio of goals made Purata the highest-scoring defender, with six goals, in Atlanta United history. The last hat trick scored by an Atlanta United player came May 7 by Ronaldo Cisneros against the Chicago Fire. All three were scored on headers. Purata said he’s never scored three goals before. He said he dedicated them to Josef Martinez, who was suspended by the team earlier this week for conduct detrimental to the team.

“I’m excited,” Purata said. “Most of all I’m happy because the team won. We’re able to get three points after suffering two losses away. So that’s what’s most important, that we’re still alive. We’re still fighting and trying to get the results.”

With Martinez suspended, Pineda made several changes to the starting lineup, notably tapping Dom Dwyer for the second time as the starting striker with Luiz Araujo on the left wing and Brooks Lennon on the right wing. The midfield was composed of Almada, Amar Sejdic and Santiago Sosa. The back four was composed of Andrew Gutman as left fullback, Ronald Hernandez as right fullback and Purata and Alan Franco as the centerbacks. Raul Gudino started the second consecutive game in goal.

Atlanta United missed a chance to take a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute when Araujo’s penalty kick easily was saved by Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg, who dove to his left to smother the shot. The penalty was won by Lennon, who was tackled in the box by Shane O’Neill. It continued Araujo’s rough start to the game. He took an ill-advised long shot in the second minute, and his first touch was too heavy on a breakaway that included brilliant passes by Gutman and Almada a few minutes later.

Atlanta United continued to pepper Toronto’s goal with 11 shots, putting three on frame, in the first half.

Toronto had a penalty kick overturned after a video review by referee Rosendo Mendoza in the 38th minute. Sejdic originally was called for a handball.

Atlanta United took a 1-0 lead in the 47th minute when Purata headed in a corner kick. It was his fourth goal this season and Atlanta United’s 10th goal from a set piece this season. It was Lennon’s sixth assist, which tied his career-high.

Ayo Akinola tied the score for Toronto in the 52nd minute. His first shot was blocked by Purata, but the ball came right back to him. He had an open goal to shoot at because Gudino had come out to challenge him before Purata’s slide. It was Toronto’s first shot on goal.

Purata scored again in the 62nd minute to give Atlanta United a 2-1 lead. It came on another corner kick. The kick was taken by Lennon. Gutman headed it at the near post backward. Sejdic met the ball at the back post and headed it back toward the middle of the goal, where Purata put it into the upper right corner. Gutman and Sejdic were given assists.

But Purata was called for a penalty in the box in the 65th minute when he was late sliding into a tackle of Jesus Jimenez. Federico Bernardeschi converted the penalty in the 67th minute to tie the score at 2-2. It was Toronto’s second shot on goal.

Ronaldo Cisneros and Edwin Mosquera came on for Dwyer and Hernandez in the 70th minute.

Almada gave Atlanta United a 3-2 lead in the 74th minute with a beautiful curling right-footed shot into the upper right corner. It was Almada’s fifth goal. Mosquera earned his second assist.

Purata capped the scoring in the 88th minute on yet another headed goal from a corner kick.

“Ninety-nine percent of the success is the players; the delivery has been good,” Pineda said. “They’re attacking the areas that we want to attack. The second balls inside the box, they’re hitting the areas that we also want. And there are players attacking those areas. So it’s the players and my assistants.”

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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 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1

July 17 Atlanta United 1, Orlando 1

July 24 L.A. Galaxy 2, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Atlanta United 0, Chicago 0

August 6 Atlanta United 2, Seattle 1

August 13 Atlanta United 2, Cincinnati 2

August 17 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

August 21 Atlanta United 2, Columbus 2

August 28 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

August 31 Philadelphia 4, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 4 Portland 2, Atlanta United 1

Sept. 10 Atlanta United 4, Toronto 2

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1:30 p.m., UniMas