Ezequiel Barco came off the bench to score two goals, including an amazing curling effort in the second half, to lift Atlanta United to a 2-0 victory over New England on Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
The victory was the first in the league this season for Atlanta United (1-2-2) as it is starting to look more like the fast, aggressive team that last year won the MLS Cup. Manager Frank de Boer and centerback Leandro Gonzalez Pirez on Thursday said they felt that the Five Stripes were due for a breakout game after a team discussion following a 2-0 loss to Columbus two weeks ago was followed by several solid training sessions.
“You want to start as well as possible,” de Boer said. I saw the progress against Columbus. It was a matter of time that we got our result. Everyone was eager to get three points, including me of course.”
Both of Barco’s goals, his second and third this season, were assisted by Hector Villalba as Atlanta United pounded New England with 19 shots, eight on goal, and 16 chances created.
“We’ve been trying to get this first win since the first game of the season,” Barco said. “It’s really important for us. It’s great to be able to do it on the road as well. It gives us all more confidence.”
De Boer went with a 4-3-3 formation for the second consecutive game but did so with different choices for personnel. Though Designated Players Barco and Pity Martinez were healthy, de Boer instead selected Julian Gressel and Villalba to start alongside Josef Martinez as the forwards. Captain Michael Parkhurst returned to the starting lineup and got the nod at right fullback in place of Franco Escobar, and Jeff Larentowicz also returned to the starting lineup at defensive midfielder with Darlington Nagbe moving up to play as an attacking midfielder.
Leaving out Pity Martinez and Barco may not have been surprising because both have yet to make a consistent impact when they’ve started. Pity Martinez had yet to score or provide an assist in three games. Barco, who has looked much better than he did last season, had one goal and no assists in four games.
Barco might not have played on Saturday if not for a head injury sustained by Eric Remedi in the first minute. The defensive midfielder bumped heads with New England’s Luis Caicedo. After an examination on the field and the sidelines, Remedi returned to the game.
However, he sat down on the pitch in the 15th minute and was subbed off, with Barco coming on. Nagbe dropped back to defensive midfielder. de Boer said he was told that Remedi has a concussion and that he had trouble remembering some parts of the game.
Barco began to affect the game in the 19th minute when he put a pass into space down the right sideline for Gressel to run onto. His cross found Josef Martinez, who totally missed the ball on his shot.
Atlanta United broke through in the 29th minute on a goal from Barco. After Atlanta United created a turnover, Josef Martinez hit a nice pass down the left for Villalba to run onto. New England’s Andrew Farrell gave Villalba a path to the end line and he took advantage. He blew past Farrell and hit a simple pass to Barco, who was just a few yards in front of the center of the goal, to one-time for his second goal this season.
Barco scored his second goal in the 49th minute to give Atlanta United a 2-0 lead. Struck with his right foot from the left edge of the penalty box, he curved the shot into the upper right corner. It was a shot that should receive goal of the week consideration in MLS.
“It was a really fast play, a beautiful play by the team and hopefully it ended with a goal,” Barco said.
Atlanta United will go for it second consecutive win when it hosts Dallas on April 20.
“We needed desperately a win and the way we did it gives us a lot of hope for the future,” de Boer said. “Two-zero, could have been a 6-1 or 7-1 win. We can look back very positive about this game.”