Large crowd sees Atlanta United hammer Orlando

 The largest soccer crowd in the world on Saturday saw Atlanta United dismantle Orlando City 4-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The team announced 71,932 tickets sold and distributed, more than either of the two World Cup games on Saturday, and the second-largest announced attendance in MLS regular-season history. They saw two goals from Miguel Almiron, and goals from Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco increase Atlanta United’s league-leading points total to 37. 

“Today was an important game because we got back to our form playing at our home stadium,” manager Gerardo Martino said. “It’s important the way they kept playing and creating chances.”

The victory improves Atlanta United to 3-0-2 against its reeling rivals, who have lost eight consecutive. Atlanta United is unbeaten in its past six games and improved to 6-2-2 at home. It will play at Dallas on Wednesday and at Philadelphia on July 7.

For just the second time this season, Martino started Martinez, Almiron, Hector Villalba and Barco together. Their speed and technical ability, combined with Orlando’s tactical choice of sitting back and hoping to counter-attack, made for an exciting game.

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Martinez, not wearing his protective mask, gave Atlanta United a 1-0 lead in the third minute on a tap-in off a curling cross from Julian Gressel. The cross split two Orlando City defenders and Martinez caught up to it just past a sliding Jonathan Spector at the back post. It was Martinez’s league-leading 15th goal and Gressel’s sixth assist.

Gressel was playing as a holding midfielder in place of the injured Darlington Nagbe. Martino and Gressel’s teammates said he played the position very well.

“He knew when to press, when to hold his position,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “Sometimes it’s not the easiest playing in there.”

The goal continued trends for both teams. Atlanta United had scored first in 14 of 18 league matches, going 9-1-3 in those games. Orlando City has surrendered the first goal in 15 out of 17 league matches.

“That first goal is important,” Parkhurst said. “It opens up the game a little bit and when that happens and Miggy can find that space he’s the best player in the league, for sure.”

Mikey Ambrose kept the 1-0 lead by clearing a shot off Guzan’s line in the 38th minute. It was one of several chances that Orlando City started to create as Atlanta United’s attack continued to create chances, but not capitalize.

And then Almiron started to find that space.

Atlanta United increased its lead to 2-0 in the 55th minute on a lightning-fast counter-attack down the middle of the field that was finished by Almiron with an assist from Martinez. It was Almiron’s seventh goal this season and first since April 28. It was Martinez’s second assist.

Barco gave Atlanta United a 3-0 lead in the 57th minute. He followed a shot from Almiron that hit the crossbar. It was Barco’s fourth goal this season. The play started with a turnover created by Jeff Larentowicz in the final third.

Almiron scored his second and Atlanta United’s fourth in the 78th minute. He got past Spector and beat goalkeeper Joe Bendik to his near post. It was the sixth multi-goal game of Almiron's career, and third this season. 

The shutout was Atlanta United’s fifth this season.

“I’m really happy with the victory, more so because of how the team played and not because of the goals,” Almiron said. “I think we defended well. We were solid at the back and at every line of the field. That helped us out a lot.”

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