Midfielders Hector Villalba and Jeff Larentowicz each scored a goal to defeat the Montreal Impact 2-0 and keep the Five Stripes unbeaten since returning home on September 10.
Already playing without starting left back Greg Garza out due to injury, Atlanta United lost Miguel Almiron to a hamstring injury in the 17th minute. The loss of Almiron changed the flow of the offense. Larentowicz called the young star “the heartbeat of our team” and for good reason. Almiron sets the offense and his chemistry with striker Josef Martinez is undeniable. Over the five-game stretch, he scored one goal and assisted four others.
Montreal gave the Five Stripes perhaps its toughest match of the stretch including the draw against Orlando. Atlanta finally broke through halfway to the first break. Villalba sidestepped one defender, took another two steps, and launched a rocket from the circle into the upper right corner.
Martinez nearly added a second goal six minutes later but his shot was wide of the goal. It was one of four missed shots for the team’s leading scorer. It was also the first match that he failed to score at least one goal.
The back-line played well in Garza’s absence. Chris McCann filled in for the last three-and-a-half games. It was the fourth clean sheet of the homestand. “A shutout is a team effort from front to back,” said Atlanta United Manager Gerardo Martinez. “I think that everybody did their part today.”
Doing their part included holding the league’s third-leading scorer Ignacio Piatti quiet. Piatti, who scored two goals against Toronto four days earlier, was not allowed a shot attempt by the Five Stripes defense. “He’s a great player – we know what his strengths are – just can’t let him get one-on-one, so when he’s got the ball, it’s about doubling up and getting numbers around him,” explained Atlanta United defender Anton Walkes.
Larentowicz added a cushion to the one-goal lead in the 73rd minute. Julian Gressel’s feed into the box arrived at the precise moment both Larentowicz and Martinez reached the spot ahead of Montreal’s Deian Boldor. “I saw a big space between the keeper and the back line,” said Gressel. “I just figured to get a good ball in and I was hoping some of the guys would make a run and thankfully Jeff (Larentowicz) did.”
Atlanta wraps up its home-stand Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Union.
All photos by Jason McDonald, CORE360 Sports