A questionable red card and two goals by Montreal, one in stoppage time of each half, were enough to send Atlanta United to its second defeat this season, 2-1 on Saturday.
The MLS expansion side took a 1-0 lead in the first half on a goal by Kenwyne Jones before Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was given a red card, which came with a penalty kick, just before halftime and tied the score at 1-1.
“No comment,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said when asked about the red card. When asked if it seems odd that the team has received three red cards in six games, Martino said, “excessive maybe, not strange.”
Martino said he thought the team had a decided advantage until the red card. He said it would be up to the front office to decide if it would appeal the red card. Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra declined to comment through a team spokesman after the game.
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Kenwyne Jones, who scored his first goal for the team, wasn’t as shy.
“When you really look at the red cards, are they really red cards, you know?” he said. “We have those decisions going against us, but we have to find a way to eliminate that happening and try and keep all 11 men on the field.”
The winning goal bounced around the penalty box before sliding into the corner and leaving Alec Kann with no chance of stopping it. Several Atlanta United players signalled that Anthony Jackson-Hamel was offside when he got the last touch. Their pleas were waved off by referee Alan Kelly.
The loss kept Atlanta United (2-2-3) on eight points this season. It was its first defeat since the inaugural game against New York Red Bulls. The Five Stripes will play at Real Salt Lake next week to complete the stretch of four consecutive road games.
Here are five observations from the game:
1. The red card. Pirez was given a questionable red card in injury time in the first half for a penalty against Matteo Mancosu, reducing Atlanta United to 10 men. Pirez and Mancosu tangled in the penalty box, but neither had possession.
“The red card was given for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity,” Kelly told a pool reporter after the game. “I saw an upper-body foul in the penalty area, with no genuine attempt to play the ball.”
In addition to the loss of Pirez, the resulting penalty kick was converted by Ignacio Piatti and tied the score 1-1. It was the third red card given to Atlanta United this season. Yamil Asad was out this game because of a red card received in the second half of last week’s tie at Toronto. Carlos Carmona was given one in the season-opening loss to New York Red Bulls.
2. The personnel change. With Pirez out, Martino elected to substitute Anton Walkes in beside Michael Parkhurst and take out Julian Gressel. It was Walkes’ second action this season after playing the final few minutes in the opener against New York Red Bulls.
Martino followed that by subbing Kevin Kratz for Jones in the 73rd minute and moving Villalba into the lone striker role. It was Kratz’ first appearance this season.
That was followed with Chris McCann coming on for Hector Villalba in the 80th minute, and shifting Almiron to the lone striker role as the team attempted to bunker in.
3. Kenwyne Jones gets a start. Jones earned his first start this season as the lone striker in Atlanta United’s formation. Hector Villalba, who started the previous two games in the position, moved back to the right wing, where he started the season’s first three games.
It paid dividends in the 40th minute when Carlos Carmona stole a pass, fed it to Hector Villalba who played Jones into space. He one-timed a right-footed shot to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead.
Jones had another chance in the 44th minute when Montreal failed to close him down near the top of the penalty box. His right-footed half-volley skimmed past the left post.
“He played a very good game,” Martino said. “I thought he put in really good effort, even in addition to the goal. I think the whole team played well with different styles of play (comparing first half to second half). The whole team put in a good effort.”
4. So does Mark Bloom. Tyrone Mears, who started the first five games at right fullback, was a late scratch because of a right ankle injury. Bloom looked like a first-time starter for parts of the game as Montreal concentrated its attacks down his side for most of the second half. Bloom, a native of Marietta, was tasked with trying to stop Piatti, considered one of the best players in MLS.
“He played well,” Martino said. “He found out this morning that he would start. It was his turn to go up against Piatti, who is their most dangerous player, attacking-wise.”
Bloom said his very first start in MLS came against Thierry Henry and, like Saturday’s, he also was told just a few hours before kickoff.
5. Ignacio Piatti returns for Montreal. After missing the previous two games, Piatti returned and scored his second goal this season on a penalty kick in injury time in the first half. He did his best to torment Bloom, but couldn’t find another goal.
“It’s best to not think (about it),” Bloom said. “My first start was against Red Bulls, and I was marking Henry. It was one of those things that it’s probably better not to know and to just go out and play. You don’t worry about the things you can’t control and worry about what you can control and that’s preparing and going everything you can to do well.”